Birth Trauma is the term used to describe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) following childbirth. PTSD is a psychological response to a frightening or even life threatening experience where, within the context of birth, a woman may have felt danger to herself or her baby; loss of control and dignity; experienced hostile attitudes from the people around them or have felt their informed consent was not respected. Up to 10 000 women a year develop Birth Trauma and around 200,000 women develop symptoms of PTSD following birth.
Symptoms of PTSD stemming from birth trauma include:
• An experience involving the threat of death or serious injury to an individual or another person close to them (e.g. their baby).
• A response of intense fear, helplessness or horror to that experience.
• The persistent re-experiencing of the event by way of recurrent intrusive memories, flashbacks and nightmares. The individual will usually feel distressed, anxious or panicky when exposed to things which remind them of the event.
• Avoidance of anything that reminds them of the trauma. This can include talking about it, although sometimes women may go through a stage of talking of their traumatic experience a lot so that it obsesses them at times.
• Bad memories and the need to avoid any reminders of the trauma, will often result in difficulties with sleeping and concentrating. Sufferers may also feel angry, irritable and be hyper vigilant (feel jumpy or on their guard all the time).
PTSD occurs as the mind attempts to make sense of traumatic events and this process is accompanied by anxiety and fear which are beyond the sufferers control and it is important to remember that this is not a sign of ‘weakness’ or a woman’s inability to cope. Birth Trauma is in the eye of the beholder and events that lead to such feelings will be different for each woman, however, research shows that certain experiences will put women at increased risk of PTSD such as:
• Lengthy labour or short and very painful labour
• Poor pain relief
• Feelings of loss of control
• High levels of medical intervention
• Traumatic or emergency deliveries, e.g. emergency caesarean section
• Impersonal treatment or problems with the staff attitudes
• Not being listened to
• Lack of information or explanation
• Lack of privacy and dignity
• Fear for baby's safety
• Birth of a damaged baby (a disability resulting from birth trauma)
• Baby’s stay in SCBU/NICU
• Poor postnatal care
• Previous trauma (for example, in childhood, with a previous birth or domestic violence)
PTSD is different from Postnatal Depression (PND) and requires different treatment therapies; however, the two conditions may overlap or be confused by health care providers.
If you feel you can identify with any of the above information or need further support and help please do not hesitate to discuss this further with your midwife, GP or health visitor. Below are some links for further support and information on Birth Trauma:
Information taken from http://www.birthtraumaassociation.org.uk/
Information provided by Rebecca Stephens, One to One Midwife