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Postnatal PTSD ‘often misdiagnosed’

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Media caption‘I Moved out of a screaming room of people to deadly silence’

Hundreds of mothers suffering from anxiety disorder that is postnatal are curable in Wales every year, according to specialists.

Girls who have a traumatic birth are vulnerable to the condition.

The Birth Trauma Association quotes 1,000 women each year in Wales will develop PTSD after birth.

But just 22 cases were listed in two health boards although others did not provide a Freedom of Information request with statistics by BBC Wales Live.

The condition contributes to flashbacks and nervousness and experts believe that this is the “tip of the iceberg” because it’s frequently unrecognised and misdiagnosed by midwives, GPs and health visitors.

Mother-of-two Hannah Freimanis, from Carmarthenshire, said she suffered flashbacks after the birth of her first son Marleigh.

She had an emergency caesarean section and his heart had ceased, when Marleigh was delivered with forceps.

“I went from a crying room of individuals to deadly silence. I was wondering exactly what they were doing and no-one was talking to me,” she explained.

Picture copyright Hannah Freimanis
Picture caption Hannah Freimanis suffered with PTSD after the birth of her first son, Marleigh

Her flashbacks got worse after an equally birth with her next son Sebastian.

“You’re not looking back on an experience. It’s not like a memory – you’re inside, you’re living it.”

Following four years she is coping with the condition and medicated and was diagnosed with PTSD.

But her sons’ birthdays nevertheless trigger feelings of anxiety: “It never feels completely joyful and happy like it ought to – I feel selfish even saying that.”

Ms Freimanis said there was a misunderstanding about the condition as well as a “dismissive approach” when it comes to the trauma of childbirth.

Figures from the health boards do not include after seeing a traumatic birth fathers who also suffer PTSD.

Picture caption Hannah Freimanis said her PTSD supposed she did not believe she was the mother she could have been

Mark Williams, from Bridgend, said he had symptoms 13 years by emergency caesarean after his son Ethan’s birth.

He explained: “I was completely unprepared for the birth. I knew my wife in pain just looked at her. I wanted out the baby – I was getting more and more anxious.

“It was only several years later that I realised, the nightmares I was getting later and vivid fantasies – waking up believing has my spouse died? Has the infant died? They were telling me then years later that it would’ve been PTSD.”

Even though the condition is often associated with soldiers returning from war, PTSD can be experienced by anyone who has a fear of loss of life of themselves or a loved one.

Prof Jonathan Bisson, who heads up the traumatic anxiety service centre in Cardiff, said: “Some intense childbirths are up there in some of the most traumatic experiences and most extreme cases of PTSD I’ve seen.

“Primary health services are geared toward postnatal blues and depression in order that they don’t ask questions around the birth which means it may be mislabelled as postnatal depression, when PTSD is the true cause. This means it’s a lottery as to whether you will get not or diagnosed.

Picture copyright Mark Williams
Picture caption Mark Williams said he was now looking for treated for PTSD – 13 years after his son was born

“But the amount of individuals we see referred to and coming through the traumatic stress ceremony is very likely to be a tip of the iceberg concerning the legitimate amount of people suffering.”

Since 2015 that the Welsh Government has spent £1.5m a year in community perinatal mental health teams to help mothers before and after childbirth.

But Sara Moseley, manager of Mind Cymru, said: “The level of training in GPs and midwives is actually patchy concerning awareness about perinatal mental health.

“Whether you are diagnosed or not depends upon two things – if you come in contact with a caregiver who knows mental health issues and in what level of seriousness it’s at. It depends if you are in crisis or living with something.”

A Welsh Government spokesman explained: “Traumatic childbirth or admission to neonatal care is a recognised cause factor for PTSD in parents. We’d expect solutions to consciously manage PTSD using the evidence-based NICE guidelines.”

  • Wales Live is on BBC One Wales on Wednesday 6 December at 22:30 GMT or about iPlayer shortly after broadcast

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