For some women birth is anything but a joyful experience. Instead, it’s been an enormous shock to her entire system. She may feel numb, shut down, detached from her body, abused, or even raped by the treatment she received from medical staff. She may feel very angry that the birth progressed beyond her control from the planned water birth to the emergency c-section.
Well meaning people might tell her to forget about the birth and focus on the new baby, sidelining her traumatic experience.
But the memory of the birth doesn’t go away and with that she begins to experience the symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) known in this context as 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.
Birth Trauma/ PTSD Symptoms
- 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
Talking therapies are very helpful in the alleviation of trauma symptoms but if the symptoms are severe and won’t go away, there are two types of therapy recommended by NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) which are proven to be very effective for the treatment of birth trauma:
- Trauma focused cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
- EMDR (eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing)
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.