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The Postpartum Disorder We Don't Hear Much About

Photograph by Twenty20

As a new mom, you’re overwhelmed by the love, hope and happiness your baby has brought you. You’re there for baby’s every need. However, you weren’t expecting all of the postpartum anxiety and fear that goes hand in hand with being a first-time mom. You're not sure what the dark cloud and worry is about, and it's not exactly postpartum depression.

The good news: You’re not alone. The bad news: You're not alone, and that means a lot of moms are suffering.

According to a new study, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition that not only affects people who’ve experienced a traumatic event—or spent time on the battlefield—it also affects new moms. About nine percent of new moms suffer from PTSD, according to Postpartum Support International.

You’ve never heard of new moms dealing with PTSD? It’s not surprising, as most women’s health practitioners are quick to label a new mom’s anxiety and fears as postpartum depression. The reason PTSD for new moms isn’t diagnosed is because it hasn’t been studied enough.

Dr. Daniel Bober, assistant clinical professor at Yale Medical School and New York University Medical School, told Today.com that misdiagnosis is often an issue.

“You would think that most practitioners would be able to distinguish between the two, but when they see a woman who has just had a child, they tend to slap that label of postpartum depression onto them.”

In postpartum women, PTSD can be triggered if the mom has a experienced some sort of trauma prior to, during or after giving birth. Some factors include a difficult labor, unnecessary medical procedures and an unsupportive home situation. However, women who have a healthy and a less-stressful pregnancy can also experience PTSD.

Some other situations that could lead to postpartum PTSD are things like having an unplanned C-section, severe postpartum hemorrhage, third- and fourth-degree vaginal tearing during delivery and having a NICU baby, all of which could contribute to parents (yep, both moms and dads) experiencing trauma surrounding their baby's birth.

Symptoms of PTSD include sleeplessness, flashbacks and hyper-vigilance—which, if untreated, can lead to rough consequences for the family. You're already sleep-deprived as a new parents, so add irrational fears and panic that comes out of nowhere and it's a recipe for disaster.

First-time mom Sarah Allevato experienced PTSD after giving birth to her son, Finn.

“I would wake in a panic that Finn would die from SIDS or would develop an infection so bad that he would be hospitalized,” Allevato told Today.com, adding she’d often panic for no reason and would constantly watch Finn to make sure he was OK. Allevato says her delivery was "textbook," but researchers note that PTSD isn’t limited to labor experience alone.

Dr. Sharon Dekel, a PTSD researcher and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, said that based on existing evidence, even 3-6 percent of moms who have a full-term pregnancy and a healthy outcome can end up with PTSD too. With 4 million births annually in the U.S., 6 percent means around 240,000 moms could have PTSD, which she called "a very alarming number.”

Dekel’s current findings show there are several variables that could trigger PTSD even following what’s considered a stress-free delivery. In early 2017, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) set new guidelines for practitioners to not be so quick to perform unnecessary procedures on low-risk births.

What do moms who are already suffering from PTSD do? Like with postpartum depression, early detection and addressing it as soon as possible by making sure you're under a doctor's care is crucial. Although it can take a long time to recover from PTSD, most women are able to process what happened to them and work through it with help.

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