Traumatic birth – how to recover from birth trauma

traumatic birth

Childbirth….it’s supposed to be a wondrous, joyous thing…or so we’re led to believe. But for many mums, it couldn’t be further from the truth. Instead of feeling all blissed out, they experienced a frightening, traumatic birth which has led them to be one of the 20,000 women a year who experience birth trauma in the UK.

Imagine entering into motherhood from a place of trauma, instead of that of sheer happiness, where you are battling to recover both physically and mentally after a traumatic birth.

It is no wonder then that maternal mental health is now at breaking point in the UK

According to new research from The Baby Show, one in five (22%) new and expectant mums said they have suffered from mental health problems while they were pregnant or during the first year of their child’s life. The survey of 1,000 new and expectant mums revealed feelings of inadequacy and inability to cope as the biggest cause (24%), followed by loneliness (21%) and lack of freedom (13%).

When it comes to receiving help, nearly half (48%) of those who suffered from mental illness said they didn’t receive the support they needed at the time. However, when help was given the biggest support to lean on was their partner (43%), friends (12%) and closely followed by parents (11%) and their midwife or health visitor (11%).

With all of this in mind, I wanted to shout loud on the blog about birth trauma and how to recover it, as I believe it’s an important part of the increasingly complex maternal mental health crisis we are currently battling with in the UK. To do that, I have Lesley Gilchrist – Midwife and birth-trauma expert – to discuss the issues around birth trauma and how to recover from birth trauma.

What is classed as a traumatic birth?

Post birth post-traumatic stress disorder, or ‘birth trauma’ can occur for a number of reasons and not always directly related to physical trauma. for many women it is due to a lack of control during their birth and how they are treated during that time.

Around 3% of women who give birth will go on to develop post birth PTSD, although around 30% of women will develop some of those symptoms.

What are the effects of a traumatic birth on the body?

Any form of physical trauma, such as tears to the perineum or anus or damage during a caesarean section. There is a collective belief amongst birth professionals and psychologists that ‘birth trauma’ relates to the psychological effects of birth trauma.

And what are the effects of a traumatic birth on the mind?

There are varying degrees of the effects of birth trauma. Most women experience one or more of the following:

  • flash backs of their labour and birth
  • voidance of the area where the trauma occurred – hospital, birth centre etc.
  • hypervigilance, where you feel constantly on high alert and feel convinced that something terrible will happen to your baby
  • feeling unhappy, guilt and self-blaming of the cause of the birth trauma.

A birth that may seem to the observer as extremely quick and straightforward can cause birth trauma for women and a birth that seems traumatic may not cause any birth trauma. It’s important not to dismiss women’s symptoms and perceptions based on their type of birth.

How long can the effects of a traumatic birth last?

Depending on the level of support and treatment you receive and the severity of the symptoms, the effects of birth trauma can last for months or years.

How to recover from a traumatic birth

What are your tips for recovering from a traumatic birth?

There are many therapies that will help you to unpick the trauma and develop coping strategies for the symptoms, but they take time, so be patient. Seek help and support from your GP, from support groups; either online or in person.

How can someone help a loved one who has experienced a traumatic birth?

Reassure them regarding their feelings and avoid becoming frustrated with their behaviour. Allow them the time to talk and offload their feelings as this helps them to feel that their feelings are valid.

If you had to give a pep talk to someone reading this who had experienced a traumatic birth it would be:

None of this is your fault. Trauma is the brain’s way of dealing with an extreme emotional situation and this requires specialist help to unpick that trauma.

What should someone do if they think they may be suffering from birth trauma?

Birth trauma and the symptoms of it are sometimes misdiagnosed as postnatal depression. If you feel that you may be suffering from birth trauma bring this up with your midwife, health visitor or GP. Birth partners may also suffer from birth trauma; it’s important not to ignore this. The Birth Trauma Association is an excellent charity that offer support and information regarding birth trauma https://www.birthtraumaassociation.org.uk/.

Lesley Gilchrist – Midwife and birth-trauma expert

Lesley is a registered, practising midwife – with both private and NHS experience – as well as joint brand founder of My Expert Midwife, a pre-and-post natal product range which tackles taboos for new and expectant mums. As well as being an expert in the effects and treatment of birth trauma, anxiety and depression, Lesley is a registered hypnobirthing teacher, Baby Show speaker and panelist.

More information about Lesley can be found at www.myexpertmidwife.com or on social media: Twitter: @MyExpertMidwife, Facebook: @MyExpertMidwife, Instagram: @my_expertmidwife.

The Baby Show will be hosting a talk named ‘Looking after Mum & Dad: Parenting and Mental Wellbeing’ when it returns to Olympia London 19th – 21st October. Author of Breaking Mum & Dad, TV presenter and life coach, Anna Williamson will be taking to the stage alongside midwife and birth trauma expert, Lesley Gilchrist, founder of Lobella Loves and mental health fighter, Jo Love, and the chair will be Robyn Wilder, Editor of The Pool’s Up with the Kids section. Together they will share anecdotes, advice and support to those new parents to help them through this huge change in their lives.

I hope this post has helped anyone who is reeling from post trauma. Please do leave a comment below if this is you and you’d like to share your story or have any questions for Lesley.

18 comments

  1. I never really thought about it, but I did have a traumatic birth with T. After two days of labour, I ended up having an emergency c-section. I remember wondering why her heartbeat was slowing down. I called for the midwife and she said “I’ve never done this before” and even before I could ask her what she meant, she pressed an emergency button and within seconds there were loads of doctors and nurses in the room. They put me to sleep so I wasn’t even awake when she was born 🙁

  2. A lot of interesting points raised here. With so many women giving birth and having a traumatic time it’s great to hear you are raising awareness of how to cope etc. I havent given birth yet but when I do one day I’m hoping all goes well!!

  3. I had a traumatic birth with my son and I think it’s hugely to blame for the fact I won’t have another child. The thoughts of going through the same thing really put me off. At the time I never spoke to anyone about it and perhaps if I did I might have changed my mind.

  4. I had 5 normal deliveries which all went smoothly, but number 6 was an emergency c-section and I think it would have out me off having any more if I had had him first

  5. I wrote about my traumatic birth with daughter 1 (baby 5), after lots of normal births including a c section I had the most awful time with E. Its suprising how many have been through the same!

  6. I’m sure I had the baby blues with my first – I couldn’t bring myself to have any feelings for him when he was born. It was made worse by the fact that he was born with 3 health conditions including clubfoot. That all changed though (thankfully!) – and he’s turned out to be a lovely young man who I adore, but it would have been great to have the support I needed back then. #coolmumclub

  7. Two of my four deliveries were very traumatic (my first born was with forcepts and 4th degree tearing, my last baby wasn’t breathing when she arrived after a particularly long and painful delivery) and as a result I struggled to bond with my first and felt angry all the time, mostly with my husband (!). It didn’t even occur too me that I was suffering from birth trauma. I thought I was just suffering from having a new baby and the physical effects of an episiotomy gone wrong. I thnk if you understand what has happened it helps you cope better with the feelings afterwards and empowers you to ask for help as you realise you are not just being pathetic by feeling so terrible. #coolmumclub

  8. My first birth was traumatic (physically and psychologically) but like other people have said it didn’t occur to me at the time. It took my a long time to recover, and i’m sure I just buried the feelings because they came back when I was pregnant with my second. More should be done to help new Mums so they don’t have to deal with this alone. #coolmumclub

  9. It was really interesting reading this – in hindsight I think when I was pregnant with the Mouse I was still in pieces from my traumatic delivery previously…perhaps I could have done with a little extra TLC.
    I really hope this post reaches someone who needs it – great advice.
    Thanks for holding the #CoolMumClub fort with me for another term hun!

  10. I am very lucky in that I had two extremely straightforward births – my two couldn’t wait to come out. But I am very conscious of the fact that this does not happen for all women so I would never take my birth experiences for granted. We really should be doing all we can to support mums – I think it is totally underestimated the impact this can have on women. #coolmumclub

  11. I had a birth trauma with my oldest but it’s actually rather complicated because while I do have PTSD, it wasn’t from my birth trauma. Rather the birth trauma led to flashbacks from my childhood in addition to tremendous fears that something bad was going to happen to my baby. I got to the point where locking my doors at night wasn’t enough. I barricaded them to make sure no one would get in. I would even stay up all night just to make sure my baby was still breathing while he slept. Again, though it was all tied into trauma I had suffered as a child and had buried for a long time. My doctors said that the birth of my son was the trigger because of the hormones being all over the place and the trauma of the birth didn’t help. I was also not treated very well by the attending physician. That added to my trauma. I hadn’t heard to birth trauma though until now. I know my PTSD comes from a combination of things that happened during my pregnancy ( I suffered from depression), trauma of the birth, and the aftermath that lasted for years. This is interesting that it hasn’t been explored more here in the U.S. We talk a lot about after the birth, not the birth itself. #CoolMumClub

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