27 Oct Birth trauma
Birth trauma is a description for negative birth experiences which may (and often do) lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after childbirth. (PTB)
Symptoms of birth trauma (Postnatal PTSD)
There are four main symptoms:
- Re-experiencing the traumatic event through flashbacks, nightmares or intrusive memories. These make you feel distressed and panicky.
- Avoiding anything that reminds you of the trauma. This can mean refusing to walk past the hospital where you gave birth, or avoiding meeting other women with new babies.
- Feeling hypervigilant: this means that you are constantly alert, irritable and jumpy. You worry that something terrible is going to happen to your baby.
- Feeling low and unhappy. You may feel guilty and blame yourself for your traumatic birth. You may have difficulty remembering parts of your birth experience.
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.
The experience of trauma is a central nervous system response – not controllable by will or brain power.
Traumatic experiences lead to the brain laying down traumatic memory – hence brain has changes.
Brain traumatic memory stimulates the flight/fight response – to heal – need to reverse the central nervous system process and find ways to modify the traumatic memory in the brain.
Who gets birth trauma?
Some women (and their birth partner) experience events during childbirth (as well as in pregnancy or immediately after birth) that would traumatise any normal person.
For other women, it is not always the sensational or dramatic events that trigger childbirth trauma but other factors such as feelings of loss of control, loss of dignity, the hostile attitudes of the people around them, feelings of not being heard or the absence of informed consent to medical procedures (most commonly vaginal examinations done to assess the progress of labour).
Some of the factors that make birth trauma more likely are:
- Lengthy labour or short and very painful labour (precipitative labour)
- Poor pain relief
- Feelings of loss of control
- High levels of medical intervention
- Assisted births with vacuum devices/ forceps
- Emergency/ unplanned caesarean section
- Impersonal treatment or problems with staff attitudes
- Not being listened to by care givers
- Lack of information or explanation of what is happening during the labour and birth, especially following an obstetrical examination/CTG
- Lack of privacy and personal dignity
- Disrespectful care and verbal and or physical abuse
- Fear for baby’s safety
- Fear for the mother’s safety
- Birth of a baby with a disability
- 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)
- Feeling alone or abandoned
- Neonatal death
Finally, people who witness their partner’s traumatic childbirth experience may also feel traumatised as a result.