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The difference between post-partum depression and post-partum PTSD

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Awareness of post-partum depression is growing amongst all spectrums of health care providers, which is a truly important shift for mothers who struggle after the births of their children and need extra support. However, PTSD following a birth experience – despite being quite distinct from post-partum depression – is too often lumped into the same “bucket” when assessing women with mental-health concerns in the post-partum period. 

I personally never learned about post-partum PTSD in naturopathic medical school, nor in my doula training, nor in my continuing education courses in obstetrics. It was only recently, through some literature shared with me by a psychologist colleague here in Whitehorse, that the light-bulb went off for me personally about the distinction between these two disorders.

Women with post-partum depression commonly report deep sadness, feelings of guilt, mood swings, difficulty bonding with their babies, withdrawing from friends/family/activities they used to enjoy, intense fatigue, and changes to appetite and sleep.

Post-partum PTSD, however, is related to a birth trauma, and results in recurrent flashbacks, intrusive memories, hyper-vigilance, triggered emotions, insomnia and nightmares. This trauma can be related to a newborn requiring care in the NICU, high-stress moments during a labour and delivery where there was risk to mom and baby, or loss of a child during pregnancy or birth. With PTSD, even after the trauma has passed, when a woman is triggered by something that reminds her of her traumatic experience, it feels like it’s still happening.

Post-partum PTSD may affect upwards of 17% of new mothers. When I look back on my own traumatic first birth, I recognize symptoms of PTSD in myself, though at the time I assumed that the flashbacks, nightmares and triggers were normal and something I just had to work through on my own. Had a care-provider checked in with me after my traumatic birth, and assessed me for PTSD, I expect that my own experience would have been much different.

Knowing the distinction between post-partum depression and post-partum PTSD will help you and your care-provider better identify appropriate treatments strategies (including the type of counselling/therapy, and the type of medication or supplements), and will help you get to a place where motherhood feels like a safe, stable and joyful place.

If you are hungry for more evidence-based information in your pregnancy, sign up for my free webinar: 7 Pregnancy Myths Debunked – and get the information you need to have a healthy pregnancy and a thriving baby.

And if you are a care-provider looking for evidence-based resources for your pregnant patients, please get in touch with us at support@myhealthypregnancyplan.com.

In health,

Dr Jocelyn Land-Murphy, ND

Terra Life

Disclaimer: The information and content provided is for general educational and informational purposes only and is not professional medical advice, nor is it intended to be a substitute therefore. Please consult the Disclaimer and Terms of Use for full details.

References:

Shaban, Z. (2013). Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Following Childbirth: Prevalence and Contributing Factors. Iranian Red Crescent Medical Journal,15(3): 177–182.

Strauss, I. (2015). “The Mothers Who Can’t Escape the Trauma of Childbirth.” The Atlantic, October 2nd, 2015.

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