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5 Mins

Managing postnatal PTSD symptoms

July 8, 2024
Kate Tilbury

Sometimes, childbirth doesn’t go to plan and you may experience a stressful or terrifying event, which leaves you feeling physically or emotionally distressed. This is known as birth trauma.  

Birth trauma could be caused by very difficult labour, an unplanned c-section, being separated from your baby following the birth, emergency treatment for you or the baby, or another traumatic situation. Birth trauma can affect the person who gives birth and partners.  

Everyone’s experience of birth trauma will be different, but some people go on to develop postnatal PTSD. If this happens, you may relive the traumatic event through flashbacks or nightmares, which leave you feeling on edge or distressed.  

Symptoms of PTSD:

  • Intrusive memories about the traumatic event
  • Dreams or nightmares relating to the traumatic event
  • Flashbacks, where you feel or act as if the trauma is happening again
  • Feeling distressed when something reminds you of the event
  • Having physical reactions to reminders of the event

We’ve written more about understanding PTSD here.  

Managing postnatal PTSD symptoms

Get to know your triggers

It’s useful to be aware of what your triggers are. Sometimes this might be obvious - for instance, with postnatal PTSD, hospitals might be a clear trigger - but this isn’t always the case. Things like smells, sounds, words, certain dates or places can also remind you of the trauma.  

You may find that your baby is a reminder of your trauma, and therefore being around them triggers negative feelings and PTSD symptoms. As a result of this, you might find it hard to bond with your baby.

This can be difficult to come to terms with and you might feel ashamed of your feelings and struggle to voice them, which can leave you feeling isolated. However, it’s important to remember that you’re not a bad person or a bad parent; your brain is responding to a traumatic event.  

Learn techniques for coping with flashbacks

Experiencing flashbacks or remembering the traumatic event can be frightening and distressing. It can be helpful to learn techniques that you can use to calm down or comfort yourself when flashbacks happen.  

Breathing techniques can help you to relax. When we’re frightened, our breathing tends to quicken, which makes us feel more panicked. Slowing our breathing helps us to calm down. Try breathing in slowly and deeply through your nose, then breathe out slowly and deeply through your mouth. It can be helpful to count from 1-5 on each breath.

Tell yourself you’re safe. It can help to prepare some phrases or sentences that you can say to yourself when you’re experiencing a flashback, reminding yourself that the trauma is over and you’re safe now.  

Grounding techniques can bring you back to the present moment. Try focusing on the sensations that you feel right now - what can you hear, see, smell and touch? Perhaps you could describe your surroundings in your head or out loud, wrap up in a soft blanket or listen to some music.

Be patient with yourself

It might take some time to heal from your experience and that’s okay. Try not to be hard on yourself if you’re not making progress as quickly as you’d hoped. Go at your own pace and do what feels right for you.  

Talk to someone

It can be hard to open about a traumatic experience, but you don’t have to go over all the details to let someone know how you’re feeling. Is there someone you trust who you could talk to, like a friend or family member? If you don’t feel able to talk to someone you know, you can call the Samaritans listening service for free 24/7 on 116 123.

Seek professional help

If you’re experiencing PTSD, it’s important that you get help as soon as possible. As a first step, you speak to your GP who will let you know what your treatment options are. One of the things that they might suggest is taking therapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

At ieso, we offer typed CBT, where our patient and therapists ‘speak’ by typing back and forward. We also offer video call sessions in certain areas. CBT can help you to identify and work through difficult thoughts and behaviours, giving you tools to manage your mental health. Our service is flexible, remote and free for some NHS patients. Find out if you’re eligible here.  

ieso Online Therapy
This blog has been written by a member of the clinical team at ieso.

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