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What is Birth Trauma (Postnatal PTSD)?

Trauma can be attached to any event where your life is threatened or severe injury is threatened. It can also be attributed to a witnessed event. A birth can be traumatic when there is a fear that you or your baby are going to die. Partners can also experience trauma when seeing a traumatic birth take place. A traumatic birth has a lot to do with how the mother perceives her birth experience. If she is experiencing PTSD symptoms surrounding her birth, it is considered birth trauma.

In this guide you’ll learn:

Risk Factors of Birth Trauma

Symptoms of Birth Trauma

Treatments for Birth Trauma

Risk Factors for Birth Trauma

Some women experience events during childbirth that would be traumatizing for anyone. Other women may have experiences that trigger trauma such as loss of control, loss of dignity, feelings of not being heard or not given informed consent. Some experiences that can contribute to birth trauma include:

  • Long labor or short and very painful labor

  • Induction

  • Poor pain relief

  • Feelings of loss of control

  • High levels of medical intervention

  • Use of forceps

  • Emergency c-section

  • Impersonal treatment or problems with staff’s attitudes

  • Not being listened to

  • Lack of information or explanation

  • Lack of privacy and dignity

  • Fear for baby’s safety

  • Stillbirth

  • Birth of a baby with a disability

  • Baby’s stay in NICU

  • Poor postnatal care

  • Previous trauma

Symptoms of Birth Trauma

Symptoms of birth trauma are involuntary and your body and mind’s response to trauma. Symptoms can be a combination of any of the following:

  • Re-experiencing the traumatic event through flashbacks, nightmares or intrusive memories. They may make you distressed or panicked.

  • Avoiding anything that reminds you of the trauma. This can mean refusing to drive near the hospital or avoiding other women with new babies.

  • Feeling hyper-vigilant: being constantly alert or jumpy. You worry something terrible will happen to your baby.

  • Feeling low and unhappy. You may feel guilt or shame for how your birth turned out.

Treatment for Birth Trauma

Many women are misdiagnosed with postpartum depression when they actually have birth trauma. Birth trauma or PTSD is not a form of depression or anxiety. It is treated differently and anti-depressants may be unsuccessful at reducing symptoms. Keep this in mind when discussing with your provider. Women should scheduled with a trained professional who can treat birth trauma. Treatment methods may include talk therapy, psycho-education and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) treatments.

After reading this, if you think you may be experiencing birth trauma, I encourage you to seek help as soon as possible. The earlier you get help, the quicker treatment can take place.

See Also:

What is Postpartum Depression (PPD)?

What is Postpartum Anxiety (PPA)?

Sources & Additional Reading:

The Body Keeps the Score

Birth Trauma Association

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