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Fathers Can Get PTSD from Childbirth, Study Reveals

Update Date: Apr 15, 2013 08:49 AM EDT

Here's a warning for soon-to-be fathers who insist on witnessing the birth of their children: there's a chance you'll end up getting diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

A new study reveals that difficult or traumatic childbirth can be just as mentally scarring for fathers as it is for mothers giving birth. British researchers from Oxford University found that some men who have witnessed their partners give birth were left so shocked they were diagnosed with PTSD, a mental condition usually associated with soldiers returning from war. 

Researchers interviewed men whose partners had undergone procedures including emergency cesareans, according to The Independent.  Most of the men interviewed recalled their stressful experiences of being left alone in hospital corridors with little or no idea of what was happening, fearing for the lives of both mother and baby. 

Mark Booth told The Independent that he was "just put in a corner" while doctors and nurses attended to his wife who had to undergo an emergency cesarean.

"I was anxious there was no one there to explain the process," Booth said. "They just assumed that I was going to be all right and nobody bothered to ask me anything. I wasn't offered any respite for my anxiety."

The 43-year-old said that he has had flashbacks of looking through the windows of hospital doors and seeing a placenta lying on the table.

"I didn't know what it was. That was the most traumatic moment for me because I didn't know if the baby was dead or alive, and then two nurses came out with an empty incubator, but didn't speak to me. That's the moment that keeps popping into my head," he explained.

Another father, Darren Dixon, 36, told The Independent that he was so psychologically scarred by the sight of his wife giving birth in 2006, that he was left suicidal after having repeated flashbacks to when he saw his unconscious wife moments before she was rushed to intensive care.  He was later diagnosed with PTSD and has since been unable to return to his job as a stockroom manager.

"For the first three years, my flashbacks were off the scale," Dixon said. "Suddenly, I'd be able to smell the hospital and the whole room would disappear and I'd be back in that theatre with my wife. I just cried from morning until night and I became agoraphobic. I still don't work now and that was seven years ago."

Experts are now recommending hospitals to pay more attention to the childbirth suffering of fathers.  They said the traumatic effect childbirth has on fathers should be recognized as a serious condition and counseling services to help men cope with stressful childbirth should be made more available.

"For the dads, it's extremely vivid because they are fully aware of what's going on," said lead researcher Professor Marian Knight, according to The Independent.

"Often, we're running around trying to save mum's life, but we need to be thinking about dads as well," she added.

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