PTSD Occurring Following Childbirth

Following childbirth, many women describe emotional difficulties often referred to as "baby blues." This condition is considered a normal part of recovery from delivering a baby and does not usually lead to any future problems or severe mental distress.

Recently, there has been an increased awareness of a more serious problem called post-partum depression, in which a mother often feels very helpless and unmotivated, rendering her unable to care for her new baby. A new level of public understanding of the disorder and routine screening by doctors has helped improve the treatment for the condition.

A new study says that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may also be a common occurrence in those who have experienced an especially challenging labor and delivery of a baby. The study finds that nearly one in ten American women who have recently delivered meet the criteria for PTSD following childbirth.

The finding comes from a survey called "New Mothers Speak Out," which was conducted by the not-for-profit group Childbirth Connection and was recently published in the Wall Street Journal. Childbirth Connection is a maternity care group.

Experts say that PTSD may be linked to a difficult time in labor, in which excessive pain or a situation in which a woman believes she or her baby may die can cause extreme trauma. PTSD is generally associated with violence, but for a woman experiencing labor, the turmoil and fear can trigger the same symptoms as those encountered following a violent event.

The symptoms of PTSD may appear immediately following a traumatic event or months afterward. The Journal notes that PTSD is experienced when a threatened or actual serious injury or death occurs and brings on feelings of helplessness or fear. When PTSD symptoms appear, they can include flashbacks, anxiety and a numbness experienced toward everyday life.

The survey was conducted through Harris Interactive and was distributed to 900 women following childbirth. Nine percent of the respondents met criteria for PTSD, as defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and 18 percent of the respondents exhibited at least some symptoms of the condition.

One important finding was the discovery that among those who experienced PTSD or other symptoms, few sought help with their difficulties.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the rate of PTSD is lower than that of depression which can be detected in approximately 15 percent of new mothers.

The factors involved with the development of PTSD are uncertain, but some in the medical field believe that it may be the result of the increasing number of procedures utilized during labor and delivery. Those who have a higher rate of intervention during their labor may experience increased feelings of helplessness. In addition, a history of trauma or sexual abuse can increase the risk of developing PTSD following labor.

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