As society learns more about trauma and trauma-informed care, we need to consider how trauma can affect our patients and clients during pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding.
According to the U.S. National Center for PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), about half of women are exposed to at least one traumatic event in their lifetime. Unfortunately, women are more likely to be victims of sexual assault and child sexual abuse than men are. Women experience PTSD at 2-3 times the rage of men, with an estimated lifetime occurrence of 9.7%.
Women of childbearing age can have preexisting trauma that often worsens during pregnancy. Although previous pregnancy losses or complicated deliveries can cause PTSD, one study found that as many as 25% of women experience childbirth-related PTSD even after giving birth to a full-term, healthy baby. Postpartum PTSD can cause mothers to avoid starting breastfeeding and also to wean before 12 months. In those women who have a history of abuse as a child, breastfeeding durations are decreased and shorter. Challenges include managing the touch of breastfeeding and coping with trauma symptoms.
This presentation discusses PTSD in women of childbearing age, how it affects pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding, and how to help. Important skills for those who help mothers include recognizing signs and symptoms of PTSD, bringing it up with clients, and meeting them where they are, such as pumping vs. direct breastfeeding. Resources for PTSD treatment are also discussed.