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Dealing with Post Traumatic Response (PTR) After Your Delivery

For most women, childbirth is a physically uncomfortable yet emotionally rewarding and overwhelmingly positive experience. However, for other women, the experience of birth and delivery can be physically and emotionally traumatic – especially if there are complications. Stress symptoms can also result from a pregnancy that was distressing or traumatic, even if the labor and delivery themselves were uncomplicated. These women may suffer from a form of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after delivery called post traumatic response, or PTR.

It can sometimes be difficult to tell when a response is a normal response to a traumatic event and when it actually constitutes PTR or PTSD. However, there are four general symptoms that separate PTSD and PTR from a normal stress response. First is a re-experiencing of the symptoms. Women who had a traumatic delivery may be obsessed with what they experienced and go through it again and again emotionally. They may have obsessive thoughts while awake or nightmares about what they experienced when they sleep. They may even have flashbacks, or panic attacks.

A second symptom is an avoidance of things that are reminders of the traumatic event. For a woman experiencing PTR after childbirth, this can manifest in a reluctance to care for her baby or an inability to bond with the baby. She may have trouble relating to her husband, particularly if he was present during the birth. A woman experiencing PTR may complain that she feels disconnected or out of place in her new family life.

Feeling numb is the third symptom of post traumatic response. Again, this can manifest as a feeling of disconnection from the people and things that used to make her happy. A woman with this condition may say that she feels numb or that things don't matter or just don't “feel right.”

Finally, a woman experiencing PTR after delivery will experience signs of agitation, such as irritability, an increased startle response, hyper vigilance, mood swings and flares of anger. She may have trouble sleeping or be hyper-vigilant, beyond the normal experience of a new mother.

When these types of symptoms persist for more than one month or if they interfere with the woman's normal life or cause her significant distress, then she likely has PTR or PTSD. It is extremely important that the woman be evaluated by a professional knowledgeable about PTSD and PTR following childbirth, so that the condition isn’t confused with postpartum depression, which has a separate treatment protocol.

Dealing with PTR often involves talking with a health care professional in a therapeutic setting. Medication may be appropriate as well, depending on the severity of the condition. The mother may need help at home caring for herself and her child and she may need an emotional support group as well.

If you suspect PTR in you or a loved one, it’s important to get help as soon as possible. Only a trained health care professional can make a formal diagnosis. The sooner you get health, the sooner you can begin to recover. Unfortunately, without treatment, PTR can linger for years.