Childbirth Trauma

Pregnancy sets up many expectations. Its an time of expecting that’s full of hopes and dreams for the baby: what kind of childhood and life is in store, how can the parent support her on her path to a bright future?

As part of the plan, some new mothers anticipate a relatively, calm, natural and fulfilling labor. Childbirth is the gateway to Motherhood. It is common for moms to use the birthing experience as a base for their sense of motherhood and it can shape their relationship with the baby.

Birth Trauma puts a serious wrinkle in those expectations, to say the least. It’s a very real issue and very common. 1 in 4 first time mothers sustain significant injuries. And only about 25 percent of women have a non-traumatic normal vaginal delivery that has not done serious damage to their pelvic floor or their anal sphincter.[1]

Trauma can be the result from labor and childbirth and can also be a consequence of how the mother is left feeling about these experiences. She might have experienced pain or physical distress while giving birth. Or her labor or childbirth may have required medical intervention (actions taken by the attending medical professionals if the health of mother or baby is considered to be at risk) that she wasn’t prepared for. [2]

It is common for women to describe their labor as ‘normal’, even if they are left with confusing, on-going symptoms such as anxiety – including for the health of the baby – or low mood. A mother’s fear for the well-being of her baby or herself following interventions or a life threatening situation can be very traumatic. These fears and anxieties can interrupt the mother’s ability to be available to and bond with her baby. [2]

some of the factors that make birth trauma more likely are:

  • Lengthy labor or short and very painful labor
  • Induction
  • Poor pain relief
  • Feelings of loss of control
  • High levels of medical intervention
  • Forceps births
  • 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
  • Stillbirth
  • Birth of a baby with a disability resulting from a traumatic birth
  • Baby’s stay in the special care baby unit or neonatal intensive care unit
  • Poor postnatal care
  • Previous trauma (for example, in childhood, with a previous birth or domestic violence)[3]

There are four main symptoms of Birth Trauma- PTSD:

  • Re-experiencing the traumatic event through flashbacks, nightmares or intrusive memories. These make her feel distressed and panicky.
  • Avoiding anything that reminds her of the trauma. This can mean refusing to walk past the hospital where she gave birth, or avoiding meeting other women with new babies.
  • Feeling hyper-vigilant: this means that mom are constantly alert, irritable and jumpy. She worries that something terrible is going to happen to her baby.
  • Feeling low and unhappy (“negative cognition” in the medical jargon). She may feel guilty and blame herself for the traumatic birthing. She may have difficulty remembering parts of the birth experience.[3]

Not everyone who has had a traumatic experience suffers from PTSD, but many do. It’s a completely normal response, and not a sign of weakness. It’s also involuntary: brain scans show a difference between the brains of people with PTSD and those without. PTSD is not something that can be cured by “pulling yourself together” or “focusing on the positive,” despite what other people tell you. [3]

This mis-understanding of what is going on with the new mom is isolating, leading to loneliness, feeling weak and depression. To be clear Birth Trauma PTSD is not the same as Postnatal Depression (PND), although they can overlap.

What can a Mother do?

Emotional Resolution, or EmRes, can be key to helping mothers with Birth Trauma PTSD to release the emotions that were trapped before, during and after their birthing experience. It works with PND as well.

Using both EmRes one-on-one sessions and learning EmRes-Self to use on their own, the traumatized mother can turn the corner on the emotions that are fogging their maternal time and lead to better self-care for herself and more wholesome relationship with her new family member.

Book EmRes one-on-one sessions

EmRes-Self class description and schedule

References
1. Birth trauma impacts go beyond women
2. Childbirth trauma
3. What is birth trauma?