It is common for people who have witnessed traumatic events to experience recurring flashbacks, intrusive memories or nightmares. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be defined as serious potentially debilitating mental conditions mainly affecting people who have encountered or witnessed a serious accident, war, assault, or any other life threatening activity. When one is expecting to have a baby, obviously they are they are filled with huge amount of joy that comes with the expected new-born. However, this is not always the case as they are fears associated with the whole episode such as being a parent and the entire process during delivery (Griebenow, p.28). But surprisingly a recent research from Michigan Medical School and School of Nursing won the attention of medics and society after discovering that most women who have suffered from traumatic experiences in their lives benefit from pregnancy. In most cases people expect pregnancy to cause flare-ups to expectant women, but they discovered that it reduces the PTSD symptoms.
The primary symptoms of PTSD are re-experiencing indications where one involuntary re-experiences some aspects of the traumatic event in a distressing manner. Avoiding reminders of the trauma is another core symptom. The reminding factors may be people, resembling circumstances or even situations. Also, those who have PTSD may have emotional numbing where one detach completely from other people and places. They are high cases of depression, guilt, shame and reduced self-esteem among PTSD suffer. Among young women, the most common traumatic events are rape, sexual molestation, previous birth complications and childhood physical abuse. However, trauma in the prenatal period can be caused by preterm births, pregnancy loss, and other life-threatening birth experiences.
Women are likely to experience high levels of PTSD symptoms in the first part of their pregnancy. However, after checkups and continuous follow-ups, the symptoms decrease as they get closer to giving birth. Women with low levels of the PTDS symptoms at the early stages of the pregnancy are also likely to maintain the same state throughout the period. Nevertheless, this is not always the case as they are exceptional cases where PTSD worsens with time during pregnancy. PTSD may worsen in case pregnant women experience new stress or trauma or develop a high level of anxiety about delivering. According to Michigan Medical School, they found that more than half of 319 women in their study were experiencing high levels of PTSD symptoms. They also found that one in every four women with PTSD the situation got worse as they neared giving birth. In fact, some of them lost totally their ability to bond with the newborns and are likely to develop postpartum depression.
Initially, when a woman who had earlier encountered some traumatic events in her life got pregnant the family members would worry and remain uncertain what will come out of it. The news of expected newborn results to mixed reaction since newborns are welcomed with joy, but the mothers condition is highly uncertain (Muzik et al., p. 2). However, the research by Michigan Medical School found that all the 319 women who participated in their study had high levels of PTSD symptoms in the first part of their pregnancy. About 75 percent of the participants after some time they later recorded a decrease of this symptoms as they got closer to giving birth. The remaining 25 percent retained low levels of PTSD symptoms or the situation got worse.
Due to the numerous events causing the traumatic condition, a good number of women may not have a formal diagnosis of PTSD before their pregnancy but may be grieving lasting effects from their trauma. When they get pregnant, the situation keeps worsening especially if they are neglected (Furuta et al. p. 1). Pregnant women are very sensitive, and any disturbing situation will trigger nightmares and flashback of their past experiences. The situation may even worsen if the marriage is abusive during this period. Women with weak social support network during pregnancy will automatically have higher risks of PTSD. Depression in such cases may lead to catastrophic effects such as abortion, suicide and even drug and substance abuse.
A comprehensive trauma treatment will take various forms which include patient education, peer support, and trauma-focused psychotherapy. It is advisable for clinicians dealing with PTSD patients to embark on treatment early enough during pregnancy and even follow up their patients cases later after they deliver (Wiegartz, Pamela and Kevin, p.10). Most of the treatments are non-pharmacological making it safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women to undergo treatment without serious medical side effects. Where medication is the only option it has its benefits as it ameliorates PTSD symptoms, treats comorbid disorders and reduce symptoms that may negatively affect the patient's psychotherapy and daily activities.
Counseling is the most effective intervention after PTSD is discovered during any screening, especially for pregnant women. Adverse childbirth experiences may evoke overwhelming anxiety and fear and the best way to handle the condition is midwife-led brief counseling. After a period of follow-up, they are high possibilities of decreased trauma symptoms, the low relative risk of stress, low risk of depression, and improved self-esteem. In fact, some follow-up during pregnancy and after giving birth increases confidence about a future pregnancy. It is a common occurrence for ladies to seek abortion services or even harm their newborns a few days after giving birth. Despite the critics, these women face afterward the society should blame themselves as they play a part for a woman to take these steps. After the incidence of rape, everyone goes silent on the matter while the victim continuous to live in grieves. Some of these occurrences contribute to the PTSD symptoms during pregnancy. Therefore, counseling should be taken seriously after any life-threatening event takes place and stability of the victim and ability to go through traumatic condition should be something of great concern to family members, peers, and clinical officers.
In conclusion, the study result is a message of hope as women who have previously experienced PTSD are not all headed for the worse during pregnancy. Also for the vulnerable group who might go through worsening symptoms and postnatal issues with lasting effects for both the child and mother the situation can be reversed with constant consultation with the relevant personnel. To save lives, it is advisable to encourage health providers caring for pregnant women to make early PTSD screening as part of their regular prenatal care. It will be easier to identify women likely to experience risk factors and support their treatment throughout the pregnancy. Lastly, family members, society, and peers have a huge role to play to minimize PTSD cases as women with a strongest social support network, especially during pregnancy, are in a better state to control the PTDS symptoms.
Furuta, Marie, Jane Sandall, and Debra Bick. "A systematic review of the relationship between severe maternal morbidity and post-traumatic stress disorder." BMC pregnancy and childbirth 12.1 (2012): 1.
Griebenow, Jennifer Jamison. "Healing the trauma: Entering motherhood with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)." Midwifery Today 80 (2006): 28.
Muzik, Maria, et al. "PTSD symptoms across pregnancy and early postpartum among women with lifetime ptsd diagnosis." Depression and anxiety (2016).
Wiegartz, Pamela S., and Kevin L. Gyoerkoe. The pregnancy & Postpartum anxiety workbook: Practical skills to help you overcome anxiety, worry, panic attacks, obsessions, and compulsions. New Harbinger Publications, Incorporated, 2009.
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