The widespread condition affecting new moms

The widespread condition affecting new moms

Pregnancy and childbirth can be an exciting and stressful time for a mother – a whirlwind combination of hope, love, fear, anticipation and indescribable emotion. Sometimes, the experience of childbirth itself can leave long-lasting effects on the mother, and sometimes those effects are negative, including postpartum depression and the less often discussed postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Between 9 and 10 percent of women experience postpartum PTSD following childbirth, according to Postpartum Support International and Dr. Jennifer Balash, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill.

“Immediately after having a baby, some women feel sad, anxious or angry,” Dr. Balash says. “They may cry for no clear reason, have difficulty sleeping or even wonder if they have the ability to care for a baby. “

For most new mothers, those feelings should start to dissipate within a few weeks, she said.

However, for some, they can continue long after, or even intensify or interfere with the mother’s ability to go through her day, including postpartum depression and PTSD.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), PTSD is defined as having symptoms lasting more than one month after exposure to a traumatic event that include recurrent distressing memories, thoughts or feelings associated with the event; negative changes in thoughts or mood beginning after the event; and/or changes in behavior or reactivity, such as issues with concentration, sleep or hypervigilance.

Women generally complete mental health questionnaires in the hospital and at postpartum visits with their doctors to help stimulate further conversation and discussion, Dr. Balash says. But should these symptoms continue for longer than a few weeks after birth, she encourages women to see their doctors as soon as possible, even before their planned visits.

“Thanks in part to more coverage in the media and on social networking sites, it seems that the stigma of postpartum depression, anxiety and PTSD is lessening as there is more and more awareness,” she says. “A woman should be open and honest with her provider –  it’s the best way to get the treatment and support she needs.”

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  1. Is the medical community really ascribing PTSD to child birth? I understand it is a psychological response to a external (based in reality, not within the mind) traumatic event, however we are now placing women who have given birth into the same category as people who have had limbs blown off, seen loved ones die, been raped, ect? At glance it just seems like this isn’t the category which they would fit into. I am all for raising understanding of post partum depression and PTSD suffers, but I feel like those are two separate things. Would love to know some thoughts of others!

  2. Hey Mark – post partum depression is just one component within the spectrum of peripartum mood disorders. There is even evidence that a certain percentage of these disorders start during pregnancy, not just in the weeks following birth. Depression is also only one of a range of reactions. Debilitating anxiety can also be a major presence in some instances. I’ve been a nurse for 25 years but not in women’s services. My experience is with a family member who experienced such severe anxiety post delivery that she literally did not sleep for a week. We were told by her doctor that what she was experiencing was Postpartum mood disorder with a component of PTSD. That took me a bit by surprised but the more I thought about her experience, the more sense it made to me. Her anxiety spiraled into depression and there was no reasoning with her or convincing her that this was temporary. I watched this highly functional, intelligent, fun loving woman become someone I barely recognized. I believe that some of these signs were present before childbirth but her labor & delivery were very mismanaged. That combination of events lead to a very challenging time. I guess what I’d like you to consider is that there are so many variants to consider, especially with issues involving mental health. Before we had this experience in my family I would probably have had the same questions you do. I now think that PTSD is a legitimate component for some women who experience postpartum mood disorders. Thanks for considering other perspectives!!

About the Author

Nathan Lurz
Nathan Lurz

Nathan Lurz, health enews contributor, is a public affairs coordinator at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital. He has nearly a decade of professional news experience as a reporter and editor, and a lifetime of experience as an enthusiastic learner. On the side, he enjoys writing even more, tabletop games, reading, running and explaining that his dog is actually the cutest dog, not yours, sorry.