For a lot of women, pregnancy and childbirth can be quite traumatic events- especially if complications or severe levels of pain are experienced. This trauma can cause a lot of damage mentally, and can even go so far as to cause Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Even though we typically associate PTSD with soldiers coming home from war, it's actually a lot more common in pregnancy and post-partum recovery than you might think. One doctor who experienced her own traumatic pregnancies and births is bringing awareness to PTSD in soon-to-be and new moms by adjusting her care plan depending on the individual patient.
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PTSD affects roughly nine percent of women following childbirth, says PSI. But it can also be triggered long before the baby is even due to arrive. If severe complications during pregnancy have put your or your baby's life at risk, it can trigger the onset of PTSD. Most commonly, PTSD sets in after childbirth due to those complications. However, you and your baby can be complication-free post-partum, and you can still get PTSD due to high levels of pain experienced during childbirth. PSI also explains that some other causes include having a prolapsed cord, an unplanned c-section, having to use a vacuum or forceps to help delivery, having your baby go to the NICU, feeling powerless during delivery, or experiencing trauma in the past.
Dr. Shivani Patel, who also suffered from PTSD due to pregnancy and childbirth complications, is speaking out about her own struggle in hopes that it will help her patients steer clear of the disorder once she notices familiar patterns.
"I was diagnosed with preeclampsia at 32 weeks of pregnancy after my blood pressure rose and I experienced headaches and blurred vision. My daughter was delivered via cesarean section within 24 hours of my diagnosis because our health was at risk. She stayed in the newborn intensive care unit for 5 1/2 weeks. The whole experience was frightening," she says.
After that experience, Dr. Patel explains that she started noticing a fear of going to the doctor, and of getting her blood pressure checked. Triggering flashbacks and anxiety even eight years later, Dr. Patel says that when she meets patients who have already had a child, she asks them to describe their past pregnancy to her.
"Sometimes what appears on paper to have been a normal birth may have been traumatic to her," she explains. "I often share my own experience and can recommend a psychiatrist or support group for help."
What Dr. Patel and other doctors have noticed is that a lot of women are scared of coming forth and admitting that they're suffering. Many tend to blame it on the hormonal shift of delivery. But when symptoms of PTSD start becoming apparent, it's crucial to get help. Some women recover after one year post-partum; but as in Dr. Patel's case, the ramifications of the trauma can have long-lasting effects. Be sure to see your doctor if you think you may have PTSD. To read more about Dr. Patel's story, click here.