Birth Trauma

What is birth trauma?

For the majority of women childbirth, though painful, is usually a positive experience. Unfortunately, for some, it can be a difficult and upsetting process and a small number of women who have had a distressing childbirth go on to develop symptoms of trauma known as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

This can involve:

  • Intense anxiety reactions when reminded of giving birth
  • Recurring, overwhelming flashbacks, memories, thoughts or nightmares about the birth.
  • Not wanting to talk about the event or talking about it obsessively.
  • Avoidance of situations that trigger memories of giving birth.
  • Feeling very angry, anxious and/or depressed.

Feeling this way is a common reaction to a very bad or scary

What causes birth trauma?

Women can feel traumatised after being faced with the possibility of death or serious harm to themselves or the baby during birth. They may have felt hopeless without any sense of control over events.

There are a number of factors that could lead to birth trauma:

  • An extremely long, painful and distressing labour and/or delivery
  • Needing a lot of medical help or procedures.
  • Fears for your own or the baby’s safety
  • Feeling like you weren’t listened to or told what was happening.
  • Previous trauma as a child, adult or during pregnancy/birth.

Examples of how it might affect you

Feelings: Agitated and anxious, Irritable, Angry, Frightened, Numb, Depressed, As if in a dream, On edge, Guilty

Beliefs: I have failed, I’m a bad mum, It’s my fault

Behaviours: Avoiding pregnant women and new mums, Avoid caring for the baby, Avoiding anything to do with childbirth, Overprotective of baby

Thoughts: “I don’t want any more children”, “I’m going mad”, Intrusive memories, Not wanting to think about the birth

Bodily reaction: Extreme tension: Difficulty sleeping, Inability to relax, Tiredness, Difficulty in concentrating

Relationships: Strained, Isolating yourself, Distant from others, No interest in sex, Difficulty bonding with the baby

What can help?

Talk to your partner, friends or family about your feelings.

  • Talk to someone who was there at the birth about what happened, what you remember and how you felt.
  • Write about your experiences.
  • Speak to other mums that have had similar experiences.
  • Keep a good routine. Make sure that you eat regularly, sleep well and look after your needs.
  • Practice relaxation techniques, particularly ones that help you to regulate your breathing
  • Try to do some normal activities that you enjoy, such as going for a walk, talking to a friend on the phone or listening to music
  • Do some exercise
  • Ask for some help with looking after the baby if you are finding it difficult.
  • If you are feeling angry or irritable remove yourself from that situation until you calm down
  • Confront avoided activities and places by breaking down the avoided activities or situations into small steps and gradually facing up to these, starting from easiest to hardest.
  • Many women will find the above suggestions helpful but if you are concerned that you are not able to ‘move on’ from your  difficult experience then talk to a doctor, midwife or other healthcare professional about your experiences and concerns.
  • Trauma is not the same as postnatal depression, but they can sometimes occur at the same time. If you feel you are also depressed you may need some extra help or treatment, such as taking medication.
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