Birth Trauma and PTSD

The shock of birth

Perhaps the birth was not the fulfilling experience you’d planned. Instead it was a trauma, an enormous shock to your entire system.

You may feel numb, shut down, detached from your body and abused by the treatment you received from medical staff. You may feel very angry that the birth progressed beyond your control from the planned water birth to the emergency c-section.

Well meaning people might tell you to forget about the birth and focus on the new baby, sidelining your traumatic experience.

But the memory of the birth doesn’t go away and with that you begin to experience the symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) known in this context as birth trauma.

How common is birth trauma?

At least 10,000 women every year in England and Wales are affected by this poorly misunderstood condition and women suffering from birth trauma often do not receive the treatment or support they need, and may be misdiagnosed as suffering from postnatal depression instead.

Negative birth experience can lead to fear or childbirth (tokophobia) and difficulties with intimacy and sexual problems (vaginismus). Symptoms of birth trauma may not surface until months after the birth.

Symptoms of birth trauma and PTSD

  • Vivid flashbacks and nightmares
  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Keeping busy
  • Avoiding situations which remind of the trauma
  • Repressing memories of the event
  • Emotionally cut off, numb or detached
  • Unable to express affection
  • Sleeping difficulties
  • Angry and aggressive
  • Extreme alertness
  • Extreme anxiety
  • Panic response and easily startled
  • Obsessive fear about the baby’s well being
  • Difficulty bonding with the baby

Useful Reading

Birth Crisis. Sheila Kitzinger.
Coping With Birth Trauma And Post Natal Depression. Lucy Jolin
Birth Trauma: A guide for you, your friends and family to coping with post-traumatic stress disorder following birth. Kim Thomas.