Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD in Pregnant and New Mothers

What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health disorder that begins after a traumatic event. That event may involve a real or perceived threat of injury or death. 


Some women experience post-traumatic stress after pregnancy. This may be caused by having a traumatic birthing experience, miscarriage, or neonatal death. This may lead to fear of childbirth in the next pregnancy.

This is a treatable condition so it’s important to ask for help.

What causes PTSD in perinatal women?

OCD is often caused by a real or perceived trauma during delivery or postpartum.


These traumas could include:

  • Prolapsed cord

  • Unplanned C-section

  • Use of vacuum extractor or forceps to deliver the baby

  • Baby going to NICU

  • Feelings of powerlessness, poor communication, and/or lack of support and reassurance during the delivery

  • Women who have experienced previous trauma, such as rape or sexual abuse, are also at a higher risk for experiencing postpartum PTSD.

  • Women who have experienced a severe physical complication or injury related to pregnancy or childbirth, such as severe postpartum hemorrhage, unexpected hysterectomy, severe preeclampsia/eclampsia, perineal trauma (3rd or 4th-degree tear), or cardiac disease.

According to a 2018 study, up to 4 percent of women experience PTSD after the birth of their child. Women who have pregnancy complications or who give birth too early are more likely to get PTSD.

You’re at higher risk for postpartum PTSD if you:

  • have depression

  • are afraid of childbirth

  • had a bad experience with a past pregnancy

  • don’t have a support network

Having PTSD can make it harder for you to care for your new baby. Some women with post-traumatic disorder find it difficult to bond with their babies. If you have symptoms of PTSD after the birth of your child, see a healthcare provider for an evaluation.

What do PTSD symptoms look like?

Symptoms of PTSD include:

  • flashbacks to the experience

  • nightmares about the experience

  • repetitive and distressing images or sensations

  • physical sensations such as pain, sweating, feeling sick (nausea) or trembling

  • constant negative thoughts about the experience

  • trying to feel nothing at all (emotional numbing) and trying to distract yourself to avoid thinking about what happened

  • avoiding places, people, or other things that remind you of the traumatic event

  • watching out for danger or threats and being easily startled

  • anxiety

  • irritability

  • difficulty concentrating

  • angry outbursts

  • sleeping problems

  • headaches

  • stomach pain

Postpartum PTSD is temporary and treatable with professional help. If you feel you may be suffering from this illness, know that it is not your fault and you are not to blame. 

Where To Get Help

Don’t be afraid to reach out if you or someone you know needs help. Learning all you can about mental health is an important first step.

Reach out to your health insurance, primary care doctor, or state/country mental health authority for more resources.

Contact the PPSC SupportLine to find out what services and supports are available in your community. 

If you or someone you know needs help now, you should immediately call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or call 911.


Wondering where to turn for help? Doing a self-assessment for depression, anxiety, or OCD can help.


Practical and emotional support are important in protecting against perinatal mental health disorders. Take this survey to see how your social support system measures up.

If you are having suicidal thoughts or are concerned about someone else who may be suicidal, please call the Buckelew Suicide Prevention Hotline: 

For Sonoma County: 1-855-587-6373

For Marin County: 415-499-1100

For Grief Support: 415-499-1195

National Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

World Maternal Mental Health

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