Some childbirth experiences can be deemed “difficult” such as induced labors, premature births, and deliveries followed by complications, but a handful of them can be downright traumatic. A traumatic birth experience can result in mental scars in the mom she may not even be aware of, but some non-traumatic experiences may be just as mentally taxing.
Mental Health Issues that May Arise after Difficult Childbirth
After the birth of my second child, I experienced a wide range of emotional problems. These were misleadingly packed into the umbrella term of “post-partum depression” by nearly everyone I’ve talked to about it. But getting the “baby blues” 3 to 7 days after childbirth is not the same as battling the crippling symptoms of postnatal depression. These kinds of symptoms can last for weeks if not months on end. Indeed, after the 7- or 8-day mark, my raging “postpartum depression” symptoms were gone, and all was well in the world again. But other women are not that lucky.
Some of the most common mental health issues a woman may experience after giving birth include the following:
- Baby blues
- Postnatal depression
- Postpartum psychosis
While many of these symptoms may not be easy to spot by new or veteran moms, they are very common.
Childbirth and Baby Blues
This is not such a serious condition as I can attest. Around seven out of ten new moms experience it, and the symptoms usually subside within two weeks after delivery.
A couple of days after my second son was born, I experienced persistent feelings of sadness, moodiness, irritability, anxiety, and crying spells. I felt as if I had lost something, but I couldn’t put my finger on it exactly. I also experienced an overwhelming sense of vulnerability, worrying about my son and my own safety, even though there was no palpable danger in sight. The fact that I had a supportive and patient husband on my side worked wonders.
The exact cause of baby blues remains a mystery, but there is a growing consensus on hormone changes as one of the direct causes. One of our family friends who also happen to be a therapist explained to me that what I was experiencing is the so-called “postpartum grief.” This is a natural process tied to a significant life transition, for example, childbirth.
Your mind knows that your body and your life will never be the same, so you unconsciously mourn your old self and old way of life. It is part of a transition ritual that enables the woman’s mind to adapt to the new reality in a healthy and empowering way. I understood that if this transition ritual doesn’t take place, the new mother may develop postnatal depression or other serious mental health issues. So, if you experience “baby blues” longer than 2 weeks, it might be postnatal depression.
Postnatal Depression (PND, also known as Postpartum Depression)
PND is a serious diagnosis and should not be left unaddressed. It affects up to 20% of women of childbearing age before, during, or after pregnancy. If left untreated it might go on for several months and make a comeback with the next pregnancy.
A friend of mine was a train wreck until her baby boy’s eight-month milestone. Night sweats, insomnia, phobias (asking her to make a simple decision pushed her anxiety levels off the charts), panic attacks, paralyzing fear for her baby’s life (she had had a miscarriage before that childbirth), and on and on and on.
When her baby was eight months old, all the symptoms mysteriously vanished to make a comeback after her next pregnancy. She’s still working with her therapist on the symptoms as medication seemed to make things worse. I’ve heard of women battling PND for more than a decade, but I hope that isn’t the case with her.
She was told that the best course of action when it comes to PND is cognitive-behavioral therapy (with an experienced therapist) paired with a good diet. New research has revealed that Omega-3 fatty acid deficiency is associated with a higher risk of PND in new moms as mothers transfer much of their DHA to their babies during pregnancy and by breastfeeding. After my friend took this approach, she started making progress, slow progress but still progress.
Childbirth and Postpartum Anxiety
During pregnancy or after childbirth includes PTSD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or phobias that weren’t there before pregnancy. A new mother may develop post-traumatic stress disorder (yes, just like military vets) after a traumatic birth experience even if the birth left no physical scars.
It is enough for the mother to perceive the experience as being traumatic for PTSD to develop. I think I’ve got a bit of PTSD myself after my first child was born. Since I was giving birth for the
the first time, I was ultra anxious, and my hubby couldn’t make it on time due to a workplace emergency.
I recall lying on the hospital delivery table, half-naked, in pain, and with cold feet and there was no one around to put a pair of socks on me. That experience haunted me in my sleep for months after delivery. I still get a sulky feeling in my stomach when I recall the ordeal.
But the worst cases of PTSD occur after a traumatic childbirth experience affects only the newborn but in a really severe way such as a birth injury that has caused the baby cerebral palsy or other debilitating condition.
Mothers of children suffering from cerebral palsy carry a heavy burden because they need to adjust to the new (painful) reality of having to care for a child with a permanent disability and the
the roller coaster of feelings that come with it.
It is estimated that up to 16% of expecting moms develop anxiety during pregnancy (antenatal anxiety) and up to 10% develop it after childbirth (postnatal anxiety). Both antenatal anxiety and postnatal anxiety can come bundled with depression. Please talk with a medical professional to tackle them both especially if you are also having recurring suicidal thoughts.
Postpartum Psychosis and Childbirth
Postpartum psychosis is a rare condition affecting new mothers. It is extremely serious as it may result in harm to you or the baby if not given emergency care. The condition affects new mothers who have already been diagnosed with schizophrenia or bipolar mood disorder. It can also affect new mothers with these two mental health issues running in the family.
The symptoms are blatantly obvious after one month of childbirth. The most common symptoms include hallucinations (“seeing” or “hearing” things), manic moods (like intense euphoria, talking too much or too fast, rapid shifts in mood), confusion, severe depression, loss of inhibitions, not being oneself, oversleeping, insomnia, etc.
After a difficult childbirth experience, a new mom may experience some changes in her mood and emotional well-being that should not be ignored. Some moms, like yours truly, may get away with just the baby blues, while others may have to battle postpartum depression and anxiety for years. Many cases of post-partum depression or PTSD sneak under the radar because the woman is not even aware of the real cause of her suffering. In addition, extreme changes may signal a more serious condition like postpartum psychosis. Conditions like this need to be treated as a medical emergency since it puts both mother’s and baby’s lives at risk.
Difficult childbirth can make a big dent in a woman’s mental health, so don’t ignore the telltale signs and take good care of yourself. Your baby needs you to be in the best mental and physical shape. And you owe it to yourself.
Marry is a part-time freelance blogger and a full-time momma of three who likes to keep it real about motherhood both in real-life and in her blog entries. Remote working for busy moms, juggling career and family life, along with tips for new parents with disabled children are just a handful of her favorite topics to blog about. She’s a regular contributor to birthinjurylawyer.com, but you can drop her a line here too.