Post traumatic stress disorder and birth

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It is supposed to be one of life's most rewarding and wondrous experiences, and fortunately that is how most women describe childbirth.

But if the birth is difficult or distressing it can have a profoundly negative effect on the mother.

A Griffith University research team has found that 6 per cent of Australian women go on to develop debilitating post-traumatic stress disorders after giving birth.

One woman ... almost died while giving birth to her son.

On top of that she says her doctor treated her inappropriately during the delivery, and a midwife agreed.

"As soon as I was up on the post-natal ward I was scared that I would see that registrar again ..." she said.

That fear prompted Cathy to discharge herself from hospital. When she got home it quickly became clear something was wrong.

"I would have panic attacks for no reason, like, I was really anxious," she said.

"I didn't sleep very much. We had to pass the hospital on our way into town, so I rarely went into town because we couldn't even drive past it."

Cathy says at her lowest point she felt suicidal and after researching she realised she was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

"I did go and see a doctor. That doctor diagnosed post-natal depression, but I knew that it wasn't post-natal depression. I knew that it was something else and I knew because everything was about the birth," she said.

An associate professor of midwifery at Griffith University, Jenny Gamble, says her latest study shows about 6 per cent of women in Australia develop PTSD after childbirth.

"... 30 per cent of women report their birth as traumatic," she said.

"It means that they feared for their life or their baby's life, or that they, or their baby, would be seriously damaged or permanently injured."

Professor Gamble says it is common for mothers with PTSD to be misdiagnosed with post-natal depression.

"If we're not really addressing the key that sparked the distress, the key reason for the distress, then I think that can be a problem for women who've had a traumatic birth," she said.

"Then they just keep blaming themselves about why they're not better."

... once PTSD is correctly diagnosed, targeted treatments are very effective.

"What we're doing is we're changing a sense of meaning for these women. We're actually changing the way they look at the trauma and therefore the way they look at themselves," he said.

... about 90 per cent of women no longer suffer PTSD after about 10-12 weeks of cognitive behaviour therapy ...

A good article that exposes the truth about PTSD and childbirth. I am concerned that the focus is on the woman and not on the health services that cause the PTSD. When 30% women report their birth as being traumatic, a large focus needs to be on reforming the maternity service so that women are safe - and feel safe - to birth in clinical settings, or to ensure that they have ready access to homebirth services and midwifery care. Interestingly, birth trauma is very rare in home birth and amongst births attended by private midwives.

Melissa Maimann, Essential Birth Consulting