Birth Trauma Awareness Week

Picture of a baby where only the soles of the feet are visible

Birth Trauma Awareness Week is organised by The Birth Trauma Association. It usually takes place in July, but this year it has been postponed and is due to take place from 6 to 12 September instead.

What is birth trauma?

Birth trauma is the experience of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after childbirth. It applies to any woman with PTSD symptoms after birth. You do not need a formal diagnosis of PTSD to suffer from birth trauma.

There is a misconception that only soldiers experience PTSD. The reality is that it can occur after any traumatic event. PTSD can affect witnesses too. This means the partner of someone who has a traumatic childbirth might also experience birth trauma.

It is sometimes possible to claim if you have seen a loved one being injured. However, this is a complex area of law. For more information, please see our previous article.

 

What causes birth trauma?

 

Birth trauma is usually caused by the fear that either you or your baby will die. It can occur after any traumatic birth. However, some of the factors which make birth trauma more likely include: –

  • Induction
  • Poor pain relief
  • Use of forceps
  • Fear for your baby’s safety
  • Stillbirth
  • Birth of a baby with a disability resulting from a traumatic birth
  • Birth of a baby who needs to stay in special care or intensive care
  • Poor postnatal care

 

What are the symptoms?

 Birth trauma results in PTSD symptoms. PTSD is a normal response to a traumatic event but does not happen to everyone. It is involuntary and alters your brain function. PTSD has four main symptoms: –

  • Re-experiencing the trauma through flashbacks or nightmares.
  • Avoiding anything that reminds you of the trauma.
  • Feeling hypervigilant, or constantly on edge, irritable and alert.
  • Feeling low and unhappy.

 

Ultrasound image of a baby

What are the effects of birth trauma?

 Many people have trouble bonding with their baby after suffering from birth trauma. Unfortunately, their child can be a reminder of the trauma they have experienced, which can result in feelings of guilt.

Another common effect is worrying that something awful will happen to your baby. Some women may find it difficult to go back to the hospital where they gave birth, or even to walk past the building.

Parents who lost their child might find it upsetting to meet family or friends with new babies and try to avoid this.

Women with birth trauma may find it difficult to undergo medical treatment which reminds them of the birth, such as smear tests, or to resume sexual relations. They might also want to avoid future pregnancies. This can put a significant strain on their relationships and family life.

 

Raising awareness

 Women affected by birth trauma often lack appropriate support. Many are wrongly diagnosed with postnatal depression or simply told that they need to try and move on with their life. Postnatal depression and birth trauma can overlap. However, they are not the same and need to be treated differently.

The poor understanding of birth trauma can make sufferers feel lonely. Being told that they should just get over it can exacerbate feelings of guilt and isolation. Few people are aware that, without treatment, birth trauma can make it impossible to stop reliving the difficult birth experience.

The Birth Trauma Association is a UK charity that aims to change this and destigmatise the condition. Through events like Birth Trauma Awareness Week, they hope to offer women support and show that they are not alone.

 

Getting treatment and help

There are a variety of treatments for birth trauma, including counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy or EMDR therapy (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing). The Birth Trauma Association website has useful advice on how to seek help for birth trauma.

 

Expert legal advice about birth trauma

 If you are concerned that you or your partner may have suffered from birth trauma, please contact one of our specialist birth injury solicitors to discuss this.

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