Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD) in Pregnancy

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms can cause upheaval or stress for the entire family, and PTSD can happen to anyone regardless of age or gender. It’s very real, and does some interesting things to the brain.

Generally, those affected are the population of people who have been through or witnessed a physical or sexual assault, abuse, accident, disaster, and many other serious events. According to the National Center for PTSD, about 7 or 8 out of every 100 people will experience PTSD at some point in their lives. Women are more likely to develop PTSD than men, and genes may make some people more likely to develop PTSD than others.

How does PTSD manifest in the body?

After a person experiences a situation or event that is unsafe, frightening, surprising, or traumatic this disorder can develop. Fear and stress are common emotions that accompany this disorder. When a person is triggered  (by a sound, smell, situation, etc.) the brain causes them to relive the traumatic event over again, and the brain has a difficult time determining if the memory is a real new memory or the original memory. In order to protect themselves, the “fight or flight” response is often initiated. For some people, they continue reliving these emotions even if there is no real threat of danger. Stress hormones in pregnancy are not good for the baby.  They need to be addressed and treated.

PTSD in Pregnancy presents challenges

It is well known that hormones produced in large amounts during pregnancy and postpartum can contribute to  mood disorders. When these factors combine with a person that is living with PTSD, a person’s experience during the childbearing year can be riddled with fear, anxiety, discomfort and emotional distress. All of these factors can cause the management of PTSD to be even more difficult than usual. For some, their symptoms lessen, but for others-potential for serious health issues like preterm labor arise.

So, how do you care for yourself and your baby during the childbearing year?

 

Treatment Plan Management

Start by learning about PTSD and talking to your healthcare providers, especially if you are using medication. Your medication may need to be adjusted or discontinued during pregnancy.

If you are unfamiliar with how PTSD can manifest, learn your own symptoms and triggers and do what you can to minimize your triggers. Additionally, if you haven’t already, begin learning good coping strategies for your current symptoms, so you can feel safer and more peaceful throughout your pregnancy. You may need to stop therapeutic work you are doing with a therapist on traumatic memory processing.  This is simply so you can cope with the vast changes happening currently in the present.

  • Good coping strategies are relaxation exercises like deep breathing, meditation, and grounding. (This is especially important when feeling overstimulated from typical pregnancy challenges)
  • If you feel overwhelmed, let your therapist know that you need to slow down.

If untreated, Postpartum can be affected

Be aware of the signs and symptoms of Postpartum depression and other mood disorders. People who have experienced trauma in the past are more likely to develop postpartum mood disorders. Some care providers will be proactive about starting you on medication at the end of your pregnancy. Preparing your post-baby support team is just as important as building your birth team. Creating the network prenatally can help you build a safety net and develop a treatment plan for after your baby has arrived.

Self-care is important

Continuing to exercise, or starting a fitness plan under the supervision of your care provider is a great way to minimize the mental health struggles while keeping your body and your baby healthy. The endorphins released counteract the effects of cortisol and stress hormones on the body, and the baby.

Another great way to alleviate the effects of those catecholamines is to seek out treatment in the form of Massage therapy, acupuncture (or auriculotherapy) and chiropractic care.

In addition, following a nutritionally sound diet and getting 7-9 hours of sleep each night keeps you physically and mentally prepared to navigate the challenges that may come your way.

Build a Life Raft

Most importantly, be sure to ask for support if you need it. Work hard to build a team to help carry you through pregnancy and birth. Be open and honest with your partner, friends, and family. They need to know how to support you when you need a break. They need to step in and help you care for yourself and your baby when the PTSD is causing your symptoms to rule your day.  Additionally, professional support from Doulas, Midwives, OB GYNs, Therapists and Counselors is paramount. They have experience supporting others in similar situations. Lean on them. Use the resources they provide, and know that they want the best for you and your baby.

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