Childbirth is an emotional and physical experience that can be a life-changing moment. But for some, the moment can also be traumatic and lead to intense fear, increased risk of depression, severe anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Birth trauma is a real phenomenon experienced by many mothers but is too often overlooked or minimized. Research suggests that as many as one in three mothers suffer from birth trauma, and almost one in ten have symptoms that meet the criteria for PTSD.
Mommy Matters is committed to raising awareness of birth trauma and its potential impacts. We believe that by providing education and access to resources, we can help mothers who have experienced birth trauma find the support they need to cope with their feelings and move forward in a healthy way.
What is Birth Trauma?
Birth trauma or postpartum PTSD is a type of psychological trauma that can occur during or after childbirth. It may be caused by a difficult, painful, or traumatic labor and delivery experience, the pressure of expectations surrounding birth experiences, physical complications such as pre-eclampsia, episiotomy, forceps delivery, or emergency cesarean section, or the feeling that medical staff did not provide adequate support.
Common Effects of Birth Trauma
Birth trauma can manifest in many different forms and symptoms. While everyone's experience is unique, some of the most common signs and symptoms of birth trauma include:
Postpartum trauma symptoms may include:
- Flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, or nightmares of the birth experience
- Anxiety about going into labor again or delivering another baby
- Feeling helpless, guilty, or ashamed of not having a "perfect" labor and delivery experience
- Fear that something terrible will happen during future pregnancies, deliveries, or the postpartum recovery period
- Avoidance of activities related to baby care or motherhood
- Difficulty bonding with the baby
Postpartum depression symptoms may include:
- Intense sadness or despair
- Loss of energy and interest in activities
- Trouble sleeping, even when the baby is asleep
- Difficulty bonding with the baby or feeling disconnected from the baby
- Feeling overwhelmed, anxious, irritable, sad, or hopeless
- Worrying too much about the baby's health
- Loss of appetite or eating too much
- Difficulty trusting others, especially medical staff
How to Identify Birth Trauma
The most important thing to know is that if you feel your birth was traumatic, it was. Every mama's birth story is unique, and it's not up to anyone else to decide how you should feel about your experience.
At least one in every three mamas will experience post-traumatic stress symptoms after giving birth. Even if the delivery wasn't difficult, you may still have feelings of guilt or shame that can lead to long-term trauma.
More than one in ten new moms will experience a depressive episode. A portion of these develop a full-blown case of postpartum depression that requires treatment to manage.
It's important to consider any of the symptoms described above as they may be indicators of underlying birth trauma or postpartum depression. If you're concerned that you may have experienced birth trauma, it's a good idea to speak with your healthcare provider and seek additional support if needed.
How to Cope and Recover from Birth Trauma
Acknowledging your feelings is the first step in coping and recovering from birth trauma. It's important to remember that you are not alone—many mamas have experienced a harrowing birth story, and it's ok to talk about it. Some of the ways to work through your experience include:
Talking to a qualified therapist is an excellent way to process your thoughts and feelings about the birth experience. Therapy can provide tremendous relief as you learn how to regulate emotions and establish healthy coping skills. Various types of therapies can help in this process.
One effective therapy is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviors associated with the traumatic experience. CBT can be beneficial for developing coping skills to deal with flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, and avoidance behaviors.
Another therapy option is eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), which involves reprocessing traumatic memories and reducing associated distress through bilateral stimulation. EMDR can benefit moms struggling with intrusive thoughts or flashbacks about their birth experience.
Postpartum support groups provide a safe space to talk about your experience, connect with other mamas who have been through a similar situation and learn helpful strategies for managing symptoms. Many local hospitals or health centers offer postpartum support groups, online forums, and resources.
- Prevention and Treatment of Traumatic Childbirth (PATTCH): PATTCH expands awareness and provides resources for mothers and clinicians about childbirth-related trauma.
- Postpartum Support International (PSI): PSI is a global organization that spreads awareness among professionals, organizations, and parents about emotional health during the perinatal period.
- Postpartum Support Center (PPSC): PPSC provides direct peer and social support to help new parents navigate the perinatal period.
These platforms offer a wealth of valuable resources, including informative articles, self-help tools, and professional guidance, all aimed at assisting mamas in their healing journey.
Self-care is an essential part of the recovery process. Taking care of yourself is vital to managing symptoms and reducing stress levels. Make sure you take time out for yourself by doing activities that make you feel relaxed and rejuvenated, such as yoga, meditation, journaling, or spending time outdoors. Eating nutritious meals, getting enough sleep, and talking to friends or family can also help you manage your emotional well-being.
Birth trauma is an under-discussed issue, and giving a voice to those who have experienced it is essential. No one should feel ashamed or guilty for how they feel about their birth experience. If you think you or someone you know may be struggling with birth trauma or postpartum depression, seeking help and support is essential.
Various resources are available to help mamas cope with birth trauma, and it's important to remember that you don't have to go through this alone. Give yourself the time to heal and find the right resources to help you on your journey. With the proper care and support, you can work through the trauma of childbirth and reclaim your sense of joy in this beautiful new chapter of life.