Postpartum Depression & Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Pregnancy and childbirth bring feelings of joy, excitement and anticipation. They also can complicate existing mental health issues and can create new mental health problems during the pregnancy, at the time of the birth and afterward. Mother and baby both can be affected long-term.
I have noticed in my own practice a number of clients who meet criteria for both acute stress disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and postpartum depression. The correlation between PTSD and depression has been documented. One study conducted by Shalev et al. (1998) found that 44.4 percent of traumatized participants suffered from comorbid depression one month after the trauma occurred, and 43.2 percent continued experiencing symptoms four months following the trauma.
In addition, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, fifth edition (DSM-5) — used by mental health professionals to help make diagnoses — states that people with a PTSD diagnosis are 80 percent more likely also to meet criteria for another mental health disorder than people without PTSD.
A study conducted by Soderquist et al. (2009) assessed the risk factors for postpartum depression and PTSD during pregnancy. They found that 1.3 percent of the women who participated in their study met DSM-IV criteria for a diagnosis of PTSD. A total of 5.6 percent of the women who participated in this study had postpartum depression one month after their delivery.
Soderquist et al. (2009) estimate that between 1 and 7 percent of women of develop post-traumatic stress reactions after giving birth. The study found that women with PTSD or postpartum depression have risk factors that are very similar. Women at greater risk for PTSD and postpartum depression tend to have a fear of childbirth and high anxiety in early pregnancy (also a predictor of postpartum depression).
Another study by Ayers and Pickering (2001) found that 6.9 percent of women met criteria for PTSD or postpartum depression. Nearly three percent of those women had not met criteria for PTSD or depression prior to delivery.
Postpartum depression can affect the way a mother bonds with her child. It also can affect how the child develops, putting him or her at risk for attachment, cognitive, behavioral and emotional problems (Lefkowitz et al., 2010). In my observations, acute stress disorder and PTSD can compound and complicate the postpartum depression, making it that much more difficult for a mother to bond with her child.
So what can a new mother and her loved ones do to address and overcome postpartum depression and trauma?