We think of birth and a new baby as a happy time, don’t we? We focus on celebrating a baby’s safe arrival, the excitement at welcoming a new life – congratulations cards, gifts – but what about when it doesn’t happen like that?

I spent over 20 years working with new mums and babies as a specialist nurse and have heard all sorts of stories that could make your hair curl! We didn’t use the term Birth Trauma then (this seems to be a more recent way of describing it) but so many of the women I’ve worked with had physical injuries from the birth process, and many more had mental scars.

What is Birth Trauma?

Birth trauma is an umbrella term that refers to physical or emotional distress associated with childbirth or the immediate postnatal period. It may refer to significant physical trauma from giving birth – it’s very common for women to need stitches after giving birth and 3rd and 4th degree tears are thankfully less common, but can leave significant impact physically – and also emotional trauma.

How common is Birth Trauma?

4-5% of women in the UK are said to have PTSD each year after birth. One third of women – that’s 3000 a year – experience birth as traumatic. (All Party Parliamentary Group on Birth Trauma – May 24).

However, this is a mere drop in the ocean – it isn’t routinely assessed, so it’s probable that the figure of those who experience Birth Trauma is much higher than that.

Don’t sit back and wonder about this – if you are wondering then you need help to overcome it!

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How does it feel to have Birth Trauma?

Some people have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder-type symptoms. This can involve:

  • Flashbacks
  • Severe anxiety
  • Physical symptoms like racing heart or sweating
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Bonding issues with the baby – or worrying too much about the baby
  • Feeling emotionally detached
  • Postnatal depression

Some people don’t experience it as full on as this, but can feel as if they aren’t the same person they were before they had their baby, and avoid thinking or talking about the experience.

If it was a tough time for you and you feel different now, then it’s an experience that has left a scar – and one you should do something about. If you don’t, it can still bother you over 20 years later – like one client of mine for whom it was still an issue and was now finding it affected her career confidence and how she responded to people in authority (badly): all a result of birth trauma.

You don’t have to wait 20 years to overcome your birth trauma – get help now!

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Who decides I’m suffering from Birth Trauma?

A health professional doesn’t decide if something is a trauma: you do. It is completely and utterly based on what the experience was like for you. So, an emergency Caesarian can be traumatic for some – whilst for others it was fine. Breastfeeding struggles can make you feel really scarred, whilst for others it was difficult but they got through it. It’s all very personal and unique.

How do I know if what I am feeling is Birth Trauma?

You could start with thinking about your birth was like:

  • If it was a complicated birth in some way – so if it had an emergency aspect to it, like an emergency Caesarean, forceps or sudden concerns about the baby’s wellbeing or your wellbeing – those are warnings signs that this could be something you may have experienced as trauma
  • If you and your baby are separated straight after birth – this is likely to be traumatic for both of you
  • Physical trauma – like I mentioned earlier – eg pain, bowel issues etc
  • Severe pain during labour
  • How health professionals speak to you and make you feel – both during the labour, birth and postnatally – all of these can contribute or create a traumatic experience.

Then, think how things went after the birth – postnatally for both you and the baby, for example, if you or your baby become really unwell after the birth.

Breastfeeding isn’t always straight forward and for some women it can be a traumatic experience too – difficulties with milk supply, difficulties getting babies latched on and the pain associated with it are all factors that may create emotional trauma that most definitely fits under the category of Birth Trauma.

Being manhandled or forced into actions you don’t want to do, or not getting the help you need are also traumatic experiences at a time when you are vulnerable.

What actually happens in your mind and body to make this a trauma?

If you are curious as to what makes a difficult birth become more than a difficult experience, but actually turn into a trauma for you – then neuroscience has some of the answers.

A difficult birth becomes Birth Trauma when the emotion becomes encoded and stuck in the brain. This can only happen if certain criteria is met. For example: it must be an actual defined event; there must be a feeling of being trapped or that you cannot escape; you also need to feel vulnerable in some capacity and in addition experience a sense of threat at the time the event takes place. If these criteria are met then the encoding takes place and trauma is embedded.

From this you can see why a Birth Trauma may differ from person to person and how two people may have similar experiences but respond in very different ways, but you can also see how giving birth means you are at your most vulnerable. This means that the risk for difficult experiences becoming a birth trauma are high.

If you know you had a difficult birth – get help now so you and your family can be free of the effects of it

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Treatments for Birth Trauma

Common practice in the UK health service – if there is any form of a service provided for Birth Trauma – is listening visits with midwives or health visitors. I used to do lots of these. This can feel good initially, especially if you felt like you were not listened to during the birth.

However, talking about a Traumatic Birth repeatedly tends to reinforce those memories, keeping the emotions high and the brain (the amygdala) highly activated. That means your symptoms continue, with you stay locked in a cycle.

The most common treatments for Birth Trauma are EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing) and CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy).

My preferred therapy for birth trauma is Havening Therapy – probably the most effective trauma therapy I have found – and I also do EMDR. The reason for this is that the symptoms of trauma are all about feelings (and emotions), and trauma-related feelings are all encoded and stuck in the amygdala, the emotional centre of the brain.

Havening is really good at “unsticking” traumas and taking the emotion out of the memory so it’s no longer something that triggers an emotional response from that part of the brain.

I use whatever gives the quickest results for the individual so a combination of techniques are often used, including:

  • EMDR
  • NLP
  • ACT
  • Havening
  • Hypnotherapy

Often people think that Birth Trauma is really obvious, but it may only be after a while the initial features of trauma subside, and you find you’re a stressed person who is easily triggered by life, children and work – someone who shouts a lot, or worries a lot and has lots of anxiety bodily symptoms. And it may only be when you seek help for anxiety related issues that it becomes apparent that it all comes from this Birth Trauma.

If you need help

With my bespoke programmes, which are a combination of powerful personalised therapy and coaching, and my many years experience as a senior nurse based in Bedfordshire, you can begin to feel not only fine but truly well. If you’re ready then let’s chat and see how we can work together.

Click here to schedule a free discovery consultation

I work mostly via Zoom for convenient, flexible sessions. For clients preferring in-person support, I’m based in Bedfordshire and easily accessible from Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire and Leicestershire.

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