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Psychological birth trauma

Birth can be traumatic for many reasons, such as: 

  • You had long induction or labour.
  • There were concerns about your baby’s wellbeing.
  • You might have experienced a challenging instrumental or emergency caesarean section birth.
  • You or your baby may have been unwell. This may also include you experiencing mental health issues during your pregnancy.
  • You may have had a physically straightforward birth, but felt frightened during labour or unable to have your wishes or concerns heard.

Birth partners may also feel traumatised after witnessing a distressing event, sometimes even if the woman who gave birth is feeling well.

In the weeks after the birth, most women will be able to process birth events and any difficult emotions they are experiencing, with appropriate support. Talking to family and friends can be helpful. 

Some women however find that these emotions don’t go away and may begin to experience symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This can range from mild to severe and can impact on day to day life.

These include:

  • High anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Hypervigilance
  • Flashbacks of the event
  • Nightmares
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Depression
  • Issues with bonding and attachment
  • Relationship difficulties
  • Avoidance of feelings or memories of the event

If you notice these symptoms continue for longer than around four weeks after the birth, then you could be suffering from PTSD. You are more likely to experience PTSD following birth if you suffered from anxiety or depression in pregnancy or have suffered previous traumatic experiences. It is also important to remember that PTSD can develop weeks, months or even years after the birth.

You may find it hard to open up to others because you feel unable to talk about what has happened to you. But you don't need to be able to describe the trauma to tell someone how you are currently feeling. Reaching out to your midwife, health visitor or GP is important as they can help you access the appropriate care and support. 

This support might consist of:

Some helpful resources