What to Know About Pregnancy and PTSD?

Pregnancy changes you both physically and mentally. Your body adapts and goes through the amazing process of creating a child. Organs shift, hormones fluctuate, and after nine months, you are blessed with a beautiful son or daughter. While most pregnancies advance normally, there are some women who experience higher levels of stress—whether from everyday life or more traumatic events. If you know you’re anxious, there are things you can do to help lower your cortisol levels and have a safe pregnancy such as taking a warm bath, meditating, or even just winding down early with a good book. Unfortunately, severe anxiety that results from post-traumatic stress disorder can be more difficult to manage. Here is what you should know regarding pregnancy and PTSD.

What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a traumatic or terrifying event.2 This event can either be witnessed or experienced personally and those who have trouble coping with it often develop PTSD. If you have PTSD it’s important that you see a mental health professional so you can move forward in treatment and reduce excessive stress placed on your body.

Symptoms of PTSD

PTSD symptoms can start any time after experiencing a traumatic event. Some people report symptoms within one month while others don’t start to see them until years later. There are typically four types of PTSD symptoms: intrusive memories, avoidance, negative changes in thinking and mood, and changes in physical and emotional reactions.1

Intrusive Memories

Intrusive memories can include things like flashbacks, nightmares, or images that will appear in your mind throughout the day. In PTSD victims, these include distressing memories of the traumatic event, reliving the event as if it were happening, upsetting dreams or nightmares, and severe emotional distress or physical reactions to things that remind you of the event.1

Avoidance

People with PTSD try to avoid any situations that remind them of the event, including certain activities or people, and will avoid talking or thinking about the trauma.

Negative Changes in Thinking and Mood

If you’re suffering from PTSD, it’s common to have negative changes in thinking and/or mood throughout the day that include yourself, other people, or the world in general. You might feel hopeless or suffer from memory problems. People with PTSD often have difficulty maintaining close relationships and find themselves feeling detached or lacking interest in previously enjoyed activities. Some of these can be mistaken for depression but are a common occurrence among PTSD victims and should be treated appropriately.

Changes in Physical and Emotional Reactions

Another serious symptom of PTSD is changes in your everyday physical or emotional reactions to situations or your environment.

Over time, someone with PTSD will go through varying intensities of these symptoms. At points, you may feel fine and are able to continue on with your normal routine without any problems. Unfortunately, this isn’t an indication that you’ve overcome PTSD since it can come in waves. Many people experience worsened symptoms when they’re stressed or if they are triggered by a reminder of the traumatic event.

If your symptoms of PTSD cause you to have severe, disturbing thoughts that interrupt your daily life call your doctor today. There are treatment options for PTSD, and they should be taken sooner rather than later to prevent PTSD symptoms from worsening over time.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, get help immediately. Reach out to a loved one, contact someone you trust in your community, see your mental health provider, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).1

Who Gets PTSD?

If you have experienced a traumatic life event you could be at risk for developing PTSD. While doctors still aren’t sure why some people get it and others don’t, it’s likely due to a mix of a few different things. If you have gone through a higher number of stressful, serious, or traumatic events, your risk could increase. Similarly, if you have any family history of anxiety or depression, inherited mental health risks, or a certain chemical and hormonal processing in the brain, you could be at a higher risk.1 Some people simply process things differently. Your risk may also include depending on your temperament. PTSD has been known to occur in about 10% of women in their lifetime, with one-third of episodes lasting more than five years.

The Relationship Between PTSD and Pregnancy

While most pregnancies don’t result in PTSD, it has been shown that PTSD rates are higher in pregnant women than non-pregnant women.3 Because of the intense hormonal changes that your body goes through during pregnancy, anxiety can strengthen and exacerbate symptoms of PTSD. This is especially true for women who have faced previous trauma, including but not limited to childhood abuse, sexual assault, sexual abuse, or other serious life events. If you are currently living with a trauma and trying to become pregnant, talk to your doctor about taking proactive measures to reduce the likelihood that you develop PTSD during pregnancy.

If you have PTSD during pregnancy, it’s important that you seek the proper care. Since PTSD affects your hormones and increases overall cortisol levels, you have to be careful. High levels of cortisol during pregnancy can lead to premature birth and low birth weight. However, it’s important to note that PTSD doesn’t always lead to problems in pregnancy. There are actually numerous accounts that note about 75% of women who have PTSD before pregnancy or during pregnancy don’t see an increase of symptoms and instead, lesson the intensity of any flare-ups.3 For the other 25%, it seems that PTSD gets worse through pregnancy.3 What this tells us is that each individual is different, and you can’t know how your body or mind is going to react. The best way to ensure that you have a safe and healthy pregnancy is to work with your doctor or a mental health professional to treat your PTSD—whether you’re currently pregnant or not. If you have any questions or are working through trauma, don’t hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional. There are treatment options and ways to get you back to feeling yourself.

Postpartum Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

When thinking of postpartum mood disorders, many people immediately think of postpartum depression (PPD). However, PPD isn’t the only postpartum mood disorder that new moms suffer from. In fact, about 3-16% of new mom suffer from postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder (P-PTSD).2 Unfortunately, it’s not as well known or discussed, so many women with P-PTSD go undiagnosed or assume it’s PPD. Yet if you are going to get help, P-PTSD treatment requires a different approach. Both will heavily rely on therapy, but since P-PTSD occurs because of a trauma or perceived trauma and PPD occurs due to hormonal changes, it’s important that you’re able to distinguish between the two.2

Causes of P-PTSD

The primary cause of P-PTSD is having a traumatic birth.2 While many new moms experience joy and happiness, with or without pain, some women have extremely difficult births or traumatic experiences. In this case, the delivery of their baby is often remembered in intrusive memories and flashbacks, similar to PTSD. This causes stress hormones to increase and physical responses. If you’ve had a traumatic birthing experience, talk to your doctor about how you can prevent the development of P-PTSD. P-PTSD will likely affect your post-delivery sex life, so don’t be afraid to be open with your partner about your feelings.

Risk Factors for P-PTSD

If you have a complicated pregnancy or childbirth, you may be at a higher risk of developing P-PTSD. If you have a history of depression, anxiety, prior trauma, or a mental health condition, your susceptibility rises. Women going through fertility treatments also seem to have a higher risk of P-PTSD.2 If you think you fall into a high-risk category, talk to your doctor about preventative measures you can take. P-PTSD is more common than you think and is nothing to be ashamed of.

Symptoms of P-PTSD

Similar to other accounts of PTSD, many postpartum women experience intrusive flashbacks or terrifying nightmares of the traumatic birth.2 These are often paired with depression, difficulty sleeping, an overall feeling of detachment, anxiety, panic attacks, disturbing thoughts, avoidance behaviors, isolation, and the feeling that they are constantly living on edge.2

If you think you’re experiencing postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder or postpartum depression, contact a medical professional today. It’s important to have a strong support system while getting the care and treatment you need to feel better and take back your life. If you have any questions about P-PTSD or PPD, reach out to the international postpartum support line and call your doctor today.

Conclusion

PTSD is a very real disorder and should not be ignored. If you or someone you love is experiencing any symptoms, seek professional help as soon as possible. Getting an accurate diagnosis is the first step in getting help. The sooner you do it, the better. If you’ve ever suffered through PTSD, P-PTSD, or postpartum depression and want to extend a helping hand to other mothers, please comment or share your story on our Facebook Page. It’s always relieving to know you’re not alone.

As a helping hand to all new mothers, remember that through the Affordable Care Act you’re eligible to receive a breast pump from Byram Healthcare absolutely free.

Sources:

1https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20355967

2https://www.whattoexpect.com/pregnancy/postpartum-ptsd-after-birth

3 https://www.uofmhealth.org/news/archive/201602/pregnancy-and-ptsd-surprising-findings-could-help-moms-be