Experiencing trauma after birth? You’re not alone, and you can get help.
October 23, 2013
As many as 18% of all women experience trauma related to childbirth, one third of whom experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Yet despite its widespread nature, the experience of birth-related trauma can be an isolating one, as mothers are encouraged to focus on their babies and quickly “get over” their birth experience. Trauma can affect a mother - and a partner’s - ability to connect with their baby, carry out normal activities, and can also impair breastfeeding.
Fortunately there are some good resources available to mothers who are experiencing birth-related trauma, which we are happy to share below. But first, some common questions about birth-related trauma.
Do you have PTSD related to your birth? Here are some common characteristic features, according to the Birth Trauma Association:
- An experience involving the threat of death or serious injury to an individual or another person close to them (e.g. their baby). [Note that it’s the mother’s perception that is important, whether or not others agree.]
- A response of intense fear, helplessness or horror to that experience.
- The persistent re-experiencing of the event by way of recurrent intrusive memories, flashbacks and nightmares. The individual will usually feel distressed, anxious or panicky when exposed to things which remind them of the event.
- Avoidance of anything that reminds them of the trauma. This can include talking about it, although sometimes women may go through a stage of talking of their traumatic experience a lot so that it obsesses them at times.
- Bad memories and the need to avoid any reminders of the trauma, will often result in difficulties with sleeping and concentrating. Sufferers may also feel angry, irritable and be hyper vigilant (feel jumpy or on guard all the time).
What are some common triggers for birth-related PTSD? Again, according to the Birth Trauma Association:
- Lengthy labor or short and very painful labor
- Poor pain relief
- Feelings of loss of control
- High levels of medical intervention
- Traumatic or emergency deliveries, e.g. emergency cesarean section
- Impersonal treatment or problems with staff attitudes
- Not being listened to
- Lack of information or explanation
- Lack of privacy and dignity
- Fear for baby’s safety
- Birth of an injured baby (a disability resulting from birth trauma)
- Baby’s stay in NICU
- Poor postpartum care
- Previous trauma (for example, sexual abuse, domestic violence, trauma with a previous birth)
What are some resources for help for mothers and partners experiencing birth-related PTSD?
Connect with other moms. Connecting with other moms helps you see that you’re not alone. There are a number of online communities for mothers experiencing birth-related trauma, including Solace for Mothers, Birth Trauma Association’s Facebook page, and Baby Center.
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy is considered by trauma experts, including the U.S. Departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense and the American Psychological Association, to be a front line treatment for PTSD. EMDR involves thinking about the traumatic experience while experiencing a stimulus engaging both sides of your perception. This might mean moving your eyes back and forth, listening to a tapping sound in alternating ears, or feeling a tapping on alternating knees. EMDR typically reduces symptoms after just a few sessions. To find a certified EMDR professional, see the EMDR Institute or the EMDR International Association.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a form of therapy which addresses beliefs caused by trauma and helps to counter conditioned-fear responses related to the traumatic experience. To find a CBT therapist, search the websites of the National Association of Cognitive Behavioral Therapist’s or the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies.
Medications. You may want to discuss medication options with your healthcare provider. A summary of medication options is provided here.
Care for partners. Partners can experience trauma related to childbirth as well. Encourage partners to seek help if they are experiencing trauma.