What Is Birth Trauma?
Birth trauma is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that occurs after childbirth. PTSD can result from many different frightening, life-threatening or otherwise highly unsafe experiences, including a traumatic birth where there was the threat of death or serious injury to either the mother or the baby.
Symptoms of Birth Trauma:
People affected by a traumatic birth can experience short- or long-term symptoms similar to PTSD including:
- Re-experiencing the event or aspects of the trauma through flashbacks, nightmares or intrusive thoughts.
- Responding to the event with intense fear, horror or helplessness.
- Avoiding things that remind them of the event, such as the location (e.g. the hospital the baby was born in), shows or movies depicting childbirth and sometimes doctors or medical care.
- Feelings of anger, irritability or being hyper-vigilant or easily startled.
As with PTSD, it is important to note that these symptoms are normal reactions to this type of trauma.
Who Experiences Birth Trauma?
Most information about birth trauma references the mother as the most common sufferer, although fathers and others attending the birth are now increasingly recognized as being affected by birth trauma.
For some it may be a scary or dangerous aspect to the birth that causes birth trauma, while in other cases it might be other factors such as loss of control, lack of consent for medical procedures, or the attitudes or behaviors of the people around them.
Some of the following scenarios or issues might also contribute to birth trauma:
- Emergency deliveries such as an emergency c-section
- A long labor or a very short and painful labor
- A lot of medical intervention
- Insufficient information or opportunities to make decisions
- Lack of privacy or dignity
- Insufficient pain relief
- Concern for the baby’s safety
- Having a baby in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU)
- Poor postnatal care
- Previous trauma, for example with a previous birth or a history of abuse
How Is Birth Trauma Different From Postpartum Depression (PPD)?
A woman (or her partner) can experience both birth trauma and PPD but they are different disorders. Some women may be diagnosed with PPD and prescribed treatment (including anti-depressants) accordingly, but that approach will not get at the underlying issues associated with birth trauma.
Those suffering from birth trauma may also suffer from depression, in which case anti-depressants may be helpful, but the emotional and psychological aspects of birth trauma will still need to be addressed.
Steps to Healing from Birth Trauma:
The treatment and recovery process for birth trauma is very similar to the process for healing from PTSD.
- Talk to someone – your doctor, midwife or other medical professional may be able to help you work through your feelings.
- Share your struggle with family and friends so they are better able to support you.
- See a therapist. Psychotherapy or talk therapy is the most commonly recommended treatment for this issue.
- Take care of yourself. As much as possible, eat well, get enough sleep, exercise and practice self-care, all of which will help you to cope.
- Read more about birth trauma so you will understand your experience and realize you’re not alone.
- Connect with others experiencing the same thing.
Additional Birth Trauma Resources:
Birth Trauma Canada is an advocacy group for women who have had negative birthing experiences.
Solace for Mothers is an organization that supports women who have experienced traumatic childbirth.
International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN) has chapters throughout the US and in some Canadian provinces where those who are healing from Cesarean birth can find support groups.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder After Childbirth provides a wealth of information and resources to aid women in healing from PTSD after childbirth.
Plus-Size-Pregnancy.org offers an extensive online book addressing the Emotional Recovery From a Cesarean, including trauma responses.