Birth Trauma Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Typically, we think of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a reaction to a traumatic experience such as military combat or violent assault. But a traumatic experience can incorporate any scenario that involves the threat of death or injury to yourself or another person close to you.
PTSD is a normal response to a traumatic event. Those with PTSD will often relive the event through flashbacks, accompanied by anxiety and fear beyond their control. PTSD is the mind’s method of coping with an experience.
Birth trauma refers to a specific type of PTSD that occurs after childbirth. Women can suffer extreme psychological distress as a result of their childbirth experience for a variety of reasons, which are frequently related to the nature of delivery (Birth Trauma Association 2012).
Some women experience birth trauma as a result of feeling a lack of control, a loss of dignity, not feeling heard, or hostile attitudes of those around them during birth. Others may have a more sensational or dramatic event that triggers the birth trauma. Men who witness their partner going through these situations can also experience birth trauma.
Risk factors for birth trauma PTSD:
- High levels of medical intervention
- Length labor or short and very painful labor
- Traumatic or emergency deliveries
- Feelings of loss of control
- Feeling not listed to
- Impersonal treatment from staff
- Lack of information or explanation
- Lack of privacy and dignity
- Fearing for baby’s safety
- Birth of a damaged baby
- Baby’s stay in NICU
- Poor postnatal care
Signs and symptoms include:
- Experiencing a situation that would have caused you or someone close to you serious injury or death
- Feelings of intense fear, helplessness, or horror related to the event
- Persistent reliving the event through memories, flashbacks, and nightmares
- Distress, anxiousness, or panic when exposed to someone that reminds you of the event
- Avoiding anything that reminds you of the trauma, which can include talking about it
- Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
- Anger, irritability, and hyper vigilance
Women who have birth trauma PTSD often find difficulties explaining their feelings or asking for help (Birth Trauma Association 2012). Women who have not had traumatizing births can find understanding how bad a birth can be difficult, which creates additional pressure for those with birth trauma PTSD to speak up. For many women suffering from birth trauma, difficulty bonding with the baby, who reminds them of the trauma they experienced, can be the biggest concern.
Getting treatment is vital to overcoming the trauma.
- Speak up. Talk with your partner, family, and friends about how you feel. Consider joining a support group or calling our warm line to talk with a WellMama volunteer. WellMama can refer you to a counselor who has experience working with women suffering from birth trauma.
- Be kind to yourself. You are not to blame for the feelings you are having, and you shouldn’t suffer alone. Don’t blame yourself for not coping in the same way that others might have. Be aware of your limitations, and don’t take on too much.
- Establish a normal routine. Making a routine and sticking to it can help create an atmosphere of safety.
- Eat well. A balanced diet is key to maintaining your energy levels.
- Talk with the hospital. According to the Birth Trauma Association, “Many people find that it is helpful to go through their hospital records relating to their birth experience with a health care professional like a doctor or midwife. You have the right to obtain a copy of your records and you should talk to your Health Visitor about how you can do this.”
Birth Trauma Association. “What is Birth Trauma?” 2012.