Doctors believe that, like soldiers returning from war, women can suffer lasting psychological damage due to their experience.
Colin Howard, executive director of Manor Hall, Centre for Trauma in Stirling said that up to 6% of mothers in Scotland suffer from PTSD after giving birth, meaning almost 35000 women suffer from the debilitating disorder each year.
Experts say it can have a “disastrous” effect, with mothers suffering for years with traumatic flashbacks, and that it can damage their relationship with their child.
One mother diagnosed with PTSD after having her first baby said that she still has nightmares from her daughter’s birth more than a year on.
Doctors believe that the condition is under-diagnosed as new mothers are scared to open up about their traumatic experience and the consequences it is having on their life.
As well as damaging the bond between mother and child, women can also lose interest in sex and their partner as they can bring back memories of the birth. Symptoms include flashbacks to the birth as well as increased anxiety.
One mother, who wished not to be named, said: “What was supposed to be one of the best experiences of my life, was the worst. Of course I love my daughter but it was all just too much.
“I was in labour for over 24 hours and I had to have an episiotomy. While giving birth I ended up tearing and losing a lot of blood.
“After I was given my daughter things got hazy and I thought I was going to die. I didn’t know what was happening all I thought was ‘this is it, I’m dying.”
She added: “After I just didn’t feel right. I couldn’t even think about having sex again until after a year, and I am still not sure whether I could go through that again to have more children. At first I thought I might have had postnatal depression, but the feelings around the birth were just so intense, whenever I thought about it I just wanted to scream.
“I am starting to feel more myself now, but even after more than a year the birth always plays on my mind.”
The condition can be treated successfully with eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing, which is used to break up traumatic memories using eye movements and is used with war veterans who have the disorder.
Mr Howard said: “A number of factors can lead to a woman suffering from PTSD after giving birth – the lack of control while in labour, the attitude of staff, inadequate pain relief or no support from significant others. Sometimes women are experiencing unbearable pain and have no one to help them through it.”
Dr Alexander Yellowlees, medical director and consultant psychiatrist at the Priory in Glasgow said that he had treated a number of women who have suffered PTSD after giving birth.
Dr Yellowlees said: “It sometimes does not initially present as this, they may think they have depression or postnatal depression, but when you start to talk about their experience it can lead to PTSD.
“As with all people who suffer from PTSD you believe that what is happening to you or around could lead to your death.
“There are not exact figures for this, but I think it should be more common than it appears.
“Not many women talk about it, and I think that is why we do not hear about it. Like when soldiers came back from the war, they were just expected to get on with it, there is the same mentality here too.”
Article from Herald Scotland
IMAGE: ‘Baby’ by Tatiana Vdb
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