Postpartum Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

Maternal-fetal medicine specialist, Shivani Patel, wrote an op-ed piece for STAT in May that detailed her experience with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) during pregnancy (1). 

Eight years ago, Patel learned she had preeclampsia during her pregnancy. Preeclampsia is not an uncommon pregnancy condition, affecting roughly 5-8% of pregnant women (2). It involves high blood pressure, headaches, blurred vision, and other symptoms, and is considered a high-risk pregnancy complication.

Within 24 hours of being diagnosed, at just 32 weeks, Patel delivered via cesarean. Her daughter was treated in the newborn intensive care unit (NICU) for 5.5 weeks.

The fear and confusion surrounding her daughter’s delivery caused Patel to be afraid to go to a doctor’s visit for two years after giving birth.

During her second pregnancy, Patel struggled intensely when having her blood pressure taken (blood pressure is a vital sign that is taken at every prenatal appointment) (1). She experienced severe anxiety and re-lived many moments from her first pregnancy. Patel realizes now, as she still feels this anxiety any time she has her blood pressure taken today, that she has been suffering from PTSD.

What is postpartum PTSD?

PTSD associated with pregnancy and childbirth is referred to as postpartum PTSD, and occurs after roughly 9% of pregnancies (3). Postpartum PTSD can result from a traumatic pregnancy or birth complication, such as (1, 3, 4):

What does postpartum PTSD look like?

Postpartum PTSD presents with symptoms similar to typical PTSD, including (3, 4):

  • Flashbacks
  • Intrusive memories
  • Sleeping issues
  • Nightmares
  • Avoidance of certain stimuli
  • Emotional distress
  • Anxiety attacks
  • Hyper-vigilance

Additionally, many women with postpartum PTSD experience constant fear and anxiety as a result. 

One mother told The Atlantic that, when her son was born prematurely and had to stay in the NICU, she became extremely paranoid that her son was in danger after he was discharged (4). She wouldn’t leave the house for 14 months after his birth and had a panic attack when someone sneezed near him.

Other mothers have experienced difficulty bonding with their new babies because they trigger the memory of traumatic birth (4).

Moving in the right direction

Fortunately, research on postpartum PTSD has increased over the past five years (4). Having a better understanding of who is at risk of developing postpartum PTSD allows for a better approach to future treatments. It also allows new mothers to seek treatment for postpartum PTSD as soon as possible. Some treatment options for postpartum PTSD include (4):

  • Peer support
  • Therapy
  • Medications
  • Therapeutic activities, such as music, art, dance, etc.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

About ABC Law Centers

ABC Law Centers was established to focus exclusively on birth injury cases. A “birth injury” is any type of harm to a baby that occurs just before, during, or after birth. This includes issues such as oxygen deprivation, infection, and trauma. While some children with birth injuries make a complete recovery, others develop disabilities such as cerebral palsy and epilepsy.

If a birth injury/subsequent disability could have been prevented with proper care, then it constitutes medical malpractice. Settlements from birth injury cases can cover the costs of lifelong treatment, care, and other crucial resources. 

If you believe you may have a birth injury case for your child, please contact us today to learn more. We are happy to talk to you free of any obligation or charge. In fact, clients pay nothing throughout the entire legal process unless we win. 

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Related Reading


  1. Patel, S. (2019, May 31). How my PTSD changed the way I care for pregnant women. Retrieved July 10, 2019, from
  2. Preeclampsia: Symptoms, Risks, Treatment and Prevention. (2017, April 04). Retrieved July 12, 2019, from
  3. Postpartum Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. (n.d.). Retrieved July 12, 2019, from
  4. Strauss, I. E. (2015, October 02). The Mothers Who Can’t Escape the Trauma of Childbirth. Retrieved July 12, 2019, from

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