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PPD and PTSD can be concurrent conditions after childbirth, but effective treatments and self-care practices can help.
A growing body of knowledge surrounding mental health, in general, has helped more people get the care and treatment they need to work through mental health issues associated with giving birth.
Many of those people may be concerned if postpartum depression (PPD) opens the door to other mental health disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or postpartum-post traumatic stress disorder (PP-PTSD).
Certain life experiences and populations may be at higher risk for developing PTSD postpartum. Still, support and treatment are available to help birthing people work through and manage the effects of changing life circumstances.
At first glance, postpartum depression and PTSD may not seem related. But preexisting conditions, past trauma, and aspects of the birthing experience may increase the chances of developing either or both conditions.
Research from 2018, which collected studies from 56 countries, suggests the global prevalence of women who experience postpartum depression is
Research from 2020, which included 26 studies from Asia, Europe, and the United States, shows a prevalence of baby blues between 13.7% and 76%.
Baby blues can be a precursor and an increased risk factor for much longer-term PPD.
PPD goes beyond “baby blues” and is defined as a major depressive disorder (MDD), with a specifier of postpartum onset within 1 month after childbirth.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of the baby blues beyond
Symptoms may include:
- excessive, uncontrolled crying
- feeling empty or numb
- persistent sadness or hopelessness
- restlessness or irritability
- loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities or hobbies
- changes in appetite (eating too much or too little)
- aches and pains not related to a clear physical cause
- difficulty forming an attachment with the new baby
- persistent doubts and fears about the ability to care for the baby
- thoughts of death or suicide or harming the baby
Post-traumatic stress disorder
PTSD is most often associated with veterans, military personnel in combat, or civilians affected by war. But anyone can develop this disorder after experiencing or seeing a traumatic event.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5), the following criteria must be met for you to receive a PTSD diagnosis:
- exposure to actual or threatened death
- serious injury
- sexual violence
Dr. Jesse Hanson, a registered psychotherapist, says, “Trauma is about how the person experiences something that’s happened in their life.”
“In other words, the same event could happen to two different people. One person could end up with symptoms of PTSD. One person could not. It’s about what happened in that person’s experience,” he explains.
The fight, flight, or freeze response is natural in and to traumatic situations. A portion of the population continues to experience symptoms of the initial fight or flight response beyond the first few weeks.
Symptoms may develop right away, or it may be several years before they’re noticed. For some people, PTSD lasts only a short time, while for others, it may develop into a chronic condition.
To be considered PTSD, the symptoms tend to last beyond a month and may interfere with work and relationships. Symptoms typically include:
- reexperiencing symptoms
- cognition and mood symptoms
- arousal and reactivity symptoms
- avoidance symptom
Symptoms in those categories can vary and may come and go.
Hanson says births may be traumatic for the birthing person, even if the circumstances surrounding the birth wouldn’t necessarily be called traumatic.
He adds that it’s about the perception of what has happened and how the person moves through it (or not).
Each person’s perspective, experience, biochemistry, and internalization of events create the conditions and links between PPD and PTSD.
Also, consider that past experiences weigh into mental health surrounding birth, even experiences from long in the past.
“Women with a preexisting history of major depression are at higher risk of developing PPD and postpartum PTSD,” says Dr. Lindsay Israel, a board certified psychiatrist and chief medical officer at Success TMS.
If the person hasn’t worked through the past trauma, it may further increase the chances of developing both PPD and PTSD.
Consider speaking with a mental health professional to find coping strategies that best suit your needs and help you manage symptoms you may be experiencing.
Is postpartum PTSD the same thing?
Hanson explains that PTSD refers to any physical, sexual, emotional, or developmental trauma. Postpartum PTSD refers to trauma acquired during or right after birth.
If the birthing person, their baby, or both face a real or perceived threat of injury or death, the postpartum individual may experience symptoms, such as:
- not wanting to talk about the birth
- feelings of helplessness
Consider seeking professional help
Your doctor or OB-GYN may have experience treating these issues but may also refer you to a therapist.
Treatment may vary from medication to various mental health treatments. Hanson has seen success with eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) and sensorimotor psychotherapy.
EMDR and sensorimotor psychotherapy aren’t evidence-based practices, so the therapist recommended to you may offer other helpful options.
Process the trauma out loud
A trained professional can help with this process, but so, too, can friends and family.
“Talking about your thoughts and feelings pertaining to a traumatic birth in a controlled way is a key step to preventing it from consuming your thoughts and feelings in an uncontrolled way,” says Israel.
Turn to your support system
Many people feel the need to isolate themselves when experiencing difficult feelings or thought patterns. The people in your support system are most likely ready and willing to help, but they may not know the extent to which you need them if you don’t express your feelings.
“Surrounding yourself with people who care about you and reminding yourself that you’re not alone can help you cope,” Israel explains.
Leave guilt behind
“Don’t be hard on yourself or judge yourself because a traumatic birth isn’t a reflection on you and is neither representative nor predictive of how you will be as a parent,” says Israel.
Letting go of guilt can also help you accept the help and support you need.
Online resources and apps may also be helpful, such as:
PPD and PTSD are both possible outcomes after giving birth. If you’ve experienced depression or PTSD before getting pregnant or giving birth, there’s an increased possibility of developing PPD or PTSD.
Know that no matter your mental health history, developing PPD or PTSD, or both, doesn’t reflect on your strength as a person nor your potential as a parent. They’re natural responses to dramatic (and sometimes traumatic) changes in your life.
Help is available for PPD and PTSD. There are many trained professionals with experience treating postpartum mental health issues. Consider visiting our page here to find a therapist. You may also consider checking into free therapy services.
You may also try turning to trusted friends and family for support.
Also, there are online support groups, resources, and apps to help you work through your feelings.