Health conditions

Post-traumatic stress disorder – emotional health for new parents

What is post-traumatic stress disorder?

A traumatic labour and delivery can have a big impact on both parents.

“When I came back to hospital to visit a friend, my heart was racing. I felt nauseous, hot, sweaty…
I had flashes of how helpless I felt in the delivery. I just wanted to get out of there.” Mother of one

For some parents, this may lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

A person with PTSD has experienced, or witnessed, a traumatic event that they believe involved actual or threatened death or serious injury to themselves or others. The person’s response to this event involved intense fear, helplessness, or horror.

Symptoms of PTSD may include:

  • re-living the experience through dreams or flashbacks
  • avoiding things that remind the person of the traumatic event
  • feeling numb emotionally
  • having difficulty sleeping, being easily startled, or being highly sensitive to (and highly aware of) the surrounding environment.

These symptoms occur for at least 1 month after the trauma and heavily impact on the person’s daily life.

Mothers or fathers with PTSD may:

  • avoid the baby
  • have trouble bonding with the baby
  • avoid a future pregnancy
  • ask for a different type of delivery in a following pregnancy to avoid repetition of past trauma.

Where to get help

  • See your doctor, obstetrician, child health nurse or midwife
  • Talk to a counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist
  • Phone the Pregnancy, Birth and Baby Helpline on 1800 882 436
  • Phone the Mental Health Emergency Response Line – Perth metro 1300 55 788 or Peel 1800 676 822
  • Phone Rural Link, an after-hours mental health phone service for rural communities, on 1800 552 002
  • Phone the Post and Antenatal Depression Association helpline on 1300 726 306 (9.30am to 4.30pm Monday to Friday)
  • Phone the Parenting Line on 1800 654 432
  • Visit healthdirect (external site) or call 1800 022 222

Women and Newborn Health Service

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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