Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Pregnancy

June 27, 2022

You probably know that stress and depression can affect your pregnancy, but did you know that past traumatic events can, too? Learn more about post-traumatic stress disorder (also called PTSD), including how the condition can affect your pregnancy and when you should talk to your health care provider.

Mental health conditions affect your emotions, feelings and behaviors. They’re medical conditions that need treatment to get better. They can happen for the first time during pregnancy and the postpartum period (the time right after you give birth), and they can reoccur or happen again (called a relapse) during these times.

What is PTSD?

PTSD is a mental health condition that happens when you have problems after you experience a shocking, scary, or dangerous event. These traumatic events may include abuse, a natural disaster, a terrorist attack or the death of a loved one.

Another type of traumatic event is a near-miss. This is when a birthing parent has unexpected and severe complications from labor and childbirth. These complications are also known as “severe maternal morbidity” (SMM) and they are quite common. In fact, between 2006 and 2015, the rate of SMM increased by 45 percent.

If you’ve had a near-miss, you may have many different feelings. You may feel like you should be happy or grateful. Or you may have trouble dealing with what happened. You may feel sad, upset, worried, scared or angry. Some parents who’ve had a near-miss develop PTSD from their SMM experience.

What are the symptoms of PTSD?

People with PTSD may have:

  • Serious anxiety
  • Flashbacks of the event. A flashback is when you relive a traumatic event so that it feels like the event is happening again.
  • Nightmares
  • Physical responses (like a racing heartbeat or sweating) when reminded of the event

How can PTSD affect my pregnancy?

As many as 1 in 5 women who have experienced a traumatic event develop the symptoms of PTSD during pregnancy. Women with PTSD may be more likely than women without it to have pregnancy complications, including preterm birth, low birthweight and postpartum mood and anxiety disorders. They also are more likely than other women to have risky health behaviors, such as smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, abusing medications or taking street drugs. Doing these things can increase the chances of having pregnancy problems.

What should I do if I think I have PTSD?

If you think you have PTSD, tell your health care provider. You can get treatment to make you feel better. If you’re being treated for a mental health condition before, during or after pregnancy, talk to your provider about any medicine you take. You and your provider can work together to decide about treatment options. It’s best to talk to your prenatal care and mental health providers about a treatment plan before you get pregnant.

You also can:

  • See a mental health professional. This is a person with training and education to help people with emotional or mental health conditions like PTSD. Mental health providers include social workers, therapists, counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists and psychiatric nurse practitioners. Ask your health care provider to help you find a mental health professional.
  • Talk with family and friends about how you’re feeling.
  • Connect with other parents and families who have had experiences like yours at Share Your Story, the March of Dimes online community.