What is Birth Trauma?

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Your Feelings Matter……….You Matter 

Birth can be a wondrous time for families.

The bringing of a new life into the arms of its parents. A time to rejoice, build memories and look forward to the new road of parenthood.

However this isn’t always the case, for some families birth is instead a time of anxiety, stress and anguish. Sadly for some, so difficult is the birth of their baby that they feel traumatised.

Each woman’s* experience of birth is unique to her. How she feels about her birth experience is important. What one woman may find traumatic, another may not.

There can be many reasons a woman feels her birth was traumatic.

Such as;

  •  a very frightening event that made her feel overwhelmed and struggling to manage.
  •  an emergency situation where the woman’s life and/or that of her baby’s was at risk.
  •  a labour that was very lengthy and/or very painful.
  • a birth had high levels of medical interventions, such as induction, a caesarean section, episiotomy, or an other medical issue.
  • a baby born early that requires care in a neonatal unit.
  •  a birth that results in damage or injury to the woman and/or her baby.
  • the loss of a baby at birth.

For other women trauma can result from the way she is looked after by the staff responsible for her care during her pregnancy, the birth of her baby, or postnatally.

  • A woman may feel a loss of control, dignity and privacy.
  • There may have been a lack of information given her or a woman may feel she wasn’t listened to and her choices not respected or overlooked.
  • She may feel she had medical procedures done without her consent or without proper explanation.
  • She may feel left with no choices, or coerced into a procedure or situation she did not want.
  • Sometimes it is the language used which was unkind, cruel or damaging to her.

Some women find their birth experience triggers, or can add to, a previous trauma such as rape or childhood abuse.

Other women find that a difficult pregnancy contributed to feeling traumatised.

Whatever the reasons, trauma from birth is real and it is important this is understood and acknowledged.

The aftermath of Birth Trauma

Women who feel traumatised from their birth often feel isolated and alone with feelings they struggle to share.

Family and friends may not understand why a woman feels traumatised. This can leave a woman feeling guilty or weak for not ‘coping’ with her birth . She may feel she should ‘get over’ her birth experience and move on. Often they will be told ‘at least you are ok and you have a healthy baby’.

The aftermath may include;

  • Damaged relationships with partners, family members and friends as a woman feels no one understands her feelings.
  • Depending on the nature of the trauma a woman may feel unable to have further medical tests such as smear tests.
  • Sex may also be affected as a woman may fear further pregnancies, or even just the act of physical intimacy itself.
  • Many women who suffer birth trauma may struggle to bond with their baby.
  • Others may instead become overly anxious of their babies health and wellbeing and constantly worry about every aspect of caring for their new-born.

In fact a traumatic birth can mean every aspect of life with their new baby is affected.

For a woman that has lost a baby during birth or whose baby has been injured during birth she may experience overwhelming guilt, she may feel like it is her fault, that she somehow failed her baby or that she should somehow have prevented it.

‘Birth trauma is in the eye of the beholder’     (Cheryl Beck)

Feeling like they have no voice, are misunderstood and weak, many women will seek to hide their true suffering, carrying on with the weight of trauma bearing down on them crushing hope and happiness as they try desperately to cling to normality. Everyday tasks become hard and just coping day to day can feel overwhelming. Their physical health too may suffer, they may struggle to sleep, eat and care for themselves.

Sadly birth trauma can be overlooked or misunderstood and wrongly diagnosed, often as postnatal depression. Women report they are rarely asked how they feel about their birth and how this has impacted them emotionally.

Research suggests up to a third or women, describe their birth as traumatic. Most overcome this with support. However, research also suggests that between 1.7% and 6% of women go on develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after a traumatic birth. These women will need additional specialist professional mental health support and treatment. This doesn’t include those who do not speak out about their suffering, who are not acknowledged as having had a traumatic birth or who are misdiagnosed. This also does not include partners or birth workers who also may suffer birth trauma.

It is important that if a woman is struggling emotionally or physically following the birth of her baby that she is asked about her birth experience and given time to talk about her feelings as well as offered any support she may need.

Healing from birth Trauma is possible with time, help and the right support.

It is possible to move Beyond Birth Trauma.

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(*’woman‘ while we address this to women, partners can also suffer from birth trauma too.)

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