I did a little digging into how common it is to develop PTSD from childbirth. Since I rarely see patients after discharge, this was not an issue that had come to my attention before. 

I was surprised to find that 20% to 30% of women experience childbirth as traumatic, and 0.8% to  6.9% of them go on to develop PTSD.1

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Traumatic birth experiences are associated with poor postpartum mental health — including depression and PTSD — which can negatively affect family relationships and child development.2 However, PTSD can occur even with “normal” deliveries. 

It has been suggested that one factor that contributes to trauma is the current medical obstetric paradigm itself, because it legitimizes placing authority and responsibility in the hands of the healthcare provider.2 Another factor is that what a patient perceives as stressful may not be something her healthcare provider would realize or believe is stressful.

A mixed-methods study, using thematic analysis of over more than 700 women recruited through social media, found that many felt that their care was affected by the healthcare provider’s personal agenda. Women attributed traumatic birth experiences to maltreatment by providers, reported that they often felt ignored, and that they were told what to do despite their own intuition indicating otherwise. 

Some said that they felt “bullied” into agreeing to an intervention, and used comparisons to violence and even rape to describe how they felt during their care.2 Although some of the treatment the women referred to may be standard OB care from an OB’s point of view, it may be contributing to the incidence of postpartum PTSD.

Childbirth trauma doesn’t affect only women. Men are often overlooked during delivery, but they are not immune to childbirth-related PTSD. In a small study by Etheridge, Impact of Event Scale measures were used to measure symptoms of traumatic stress through interviews with 11 new fathers. Results showed that fathers found the birth experience to be one of constant shift, which was traumatic and emotional for them.

Main trauma themes included feeling torn between being with their partner or being with the baby, and feeling abandoned or isolated. Lack of communication led to distortions of reality, and rumination was common. Many felt that their feelings of trauma led to a loss of shared positive experience with the newborn and their partners, and affected their relationships. Finally, the study found that men were reluctant to seek help or support.3

This article originally appeared on Medical Bag