What is Birth Trauma
Birth Trauma is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) caused by trauma experienced in pregnancy, labour, birth and the postnatal period. PTSD happens when the brain does not process traumatic memories in a straightforward way. This means that a trauma memory or fear can feel like it’s still happening in the here and now. People who suffer from Birth Trauma may find that they are constantly reliving an event in their mind, experiencing flashbacks, nightmares, heightened emotions, feeling ‘jumpy’ or going to great lengths to try and avoid anything that reminds them of the event or events. Everyone’s experience of PTSD is different but most people will relate to feeling exhausted, anxious and isolated
Women suffering from Birth Trauma are often misdiagnosed with postnatal depression. Birth partners and Health Care professionals suffering from Birth Trauma tend to be misdiagnosed with depression or work-related stress. Whilst these conditions do have some symptoms in common they are, in fact, very different and require quite different treatments
PTSD symptoms of Birth Trauma can be treated very quickly, often in 1-2 sessions if carried out by an appropriately trained professional.
Approximately 6% of women are diagnosed with PTSD following childbirth. It is estimated that a further 25-30% develop symptoms that go undiagnosed. This can cause postnatal depression and can affect bonding with your baby, your relationships with your family. It can also cause a high level of anxiety. In extreme cases it can cause a mother to take her own life. Causes of Birth Trauma are varied and individual however common causes include; feeling a loss of control, not feeling listened to, fear of baby’s safety, induction of labour, premature birth, medical intervention, an unwell baby resulting from birth trauma, baby's stay in SCBU/ NICU, unsatisfactory postnatal care or emergency situations like an emergency caesarean birth or postpartum haemorrhage. Other common causes are breastfeeding problems or repeated sleep deprivation. It is important to mention that an uncomplicated physiological vaginal delivery, may still have felt very traumatic to the mother
Fathers, birth Partners
Fathers and birth partners can experience birth trauma from witnessing a traumatic birth or experience. They may have thought their partner and/or their baby was going to die. They may also experience feelings of anger and helplessness if they were excluded from decision making or denied the ability to provide support. They may have experienced a traumatic postnatal experience or a previous loss of a baby. They may feel traumatised for the same reasons as mothers.
Healthcare professionals- Including midwives, obstetricians, theatre staff and clinical support workers, maternity support workers and students. Like fathers and birth partners healthcare professionals can also experience Birth Trauma. In fact, research shows that at least one in 20 midwives have experienced symptoms of PTSD. This can be from being involved in the care of a traumatic birth, being involved in or feeling responsible for an adverse outcome, the trauma of an investigation, the stress of short staffing and bullying
For more details on the causes of birth trauma and PTSD please see the Birth Trauma Association website.
Common signs and symptoms of Birth Trauma MIND.ORG.UK
Re-living aspects of the trauma
• vivid flashbacks (feeling that the trauma is happening all over again)
• intrusive thoughts and images
• intense distress at real or symbolic reminders of the trauma
• physical sensations such as pain, sweating, nausea or trembling
Alertness or feeling on edge
• panicking when reminded of the trauma
• being easily upset or angry
• extreme alertness
• disturbed sleep or a lack of sleep
• irritability and aggressive behaviour
• lack of concentration
• being easily startled
• self-destructive behaviour or recklessness
• hyper vigilant (feel jumpy or on their guard all the time)
Avoiding feelings or memories
• avoiding situations that remind you of the trauma
• repressing memories (being unable to remember aspects of the event)
• feeling detached, cut off and emotionally numb
• keeping busy
• being unable to express affection
• using alcohol or drugs to avoid memories
Grief and trauma often go hand in hand
Grief is often a response to trauma or a traumatic event. This 'traumatic grief' sometimes stops the necessary grieving process, or blocks it altogether. The natural healing process of grief is an important one. If you feel you have the need for support in this journey, there are many organisations such as www.sands.org.uk , The Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society. However, if you feel you cannot move on from your loss, or have noticed that you are experiencing some of the signs and symptoms of PTSD mentioned above, then Birth Trauma Resolution may help you let go of the trauma so you can grieve naturally and peacefully. This will allow you to hold on to the good memories and let go of the emotional pain and numbness associated with the traumatic ones.
Mothers and birth partners may experience traumatic grief from the experience of miscarriage, termination of pregnancy, fertility problems including failed fertility treatments, the experience of having a stillborn baby and the loss of a baby
Tokophobia, is an extreme fear of childbirth that can be triggered by thinking or even talking about pregnancy. Around 14% of women experience Tokophobia. Women can suffer from tokophobia even before experiencing birth or it is can be a direct consequence of a previously traumatic delivery.
Feeling a certain level of anxiety about childbirth can be normal, and may even be useful in motivating pregnant women to prepare themselves for the birth. However, a woman who suffers from tokophobia will experience debilitating thoughts and worries that affect their everyday lives. It is possible that a woman suffering from tokophobia will experience symptoms of PTSD regardless of whether or not she has ever given birth before