Do you have flashbacks or nightmares about your baby’s birth? Do you have panic attacks? Do avoid your baby because he/she reminds you of your traumatic experience? Are you having fantasies about hurting the baby, or yourself? Do you have difficulty concentrating? Are you unusually irritable, angry or depressed? Or are you just numb and can’t feel anything? Then you may have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from your childbirth experience. If you have experienced birth trauma, you are not alone, what you are going through is real, and there is hope for healing. Don’t give up!
If you feel like you are in crisis, or may hurt yourself or your baby,
PLEASE call 911, or 1-800-SUICIDE.
In 2009, Childbirth Connection released New Mothers Speak Out: National Survey Results Highlight Women’s Postpartum Experiences. A result from one of their surveys has determined that up to 9% of women who have given birth meet all the criteria for PTSD. I would imagine the number is much higher due to cases that have just gone unreported because of fear, shame, and guilt. According to the same survey, only 18% of women sought help from a medical professional regarding their mental well being after childbirth. (Childbirth Connection, 22)
Cheryl Beck, Nursing Professor at the University of Connecticut, stated in her latest study published in the July/August, 2008 issue of Nursing Research, up to 34% have experienced some sort of trauma during childbirth. Cheryl explains:
Birth trauma is an event that occurs during any phase of the childbearing process than involves actual or threatened serious injury or death to the mother or her infant. The trauma can be classified as a negative outcome, such as a postpartum hemorrhage, or psychological distress. Experiencing this extremely traumatic stressor, a woman’s response can be intense fear, helplessness, loss of control, and horror. (Beck, 229)
Another Study done by The Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynecology showed that suicide was the single largest cause of maternal death during the first year after childbirth. Jean Robinson, of the Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services in the UK, suggested four reasons why PTSD was not being diagnosed in new mothers:
- GPs, health visitors and even psychiatrists do not know there is such a
postnatal illness. Childbirth was a 'normal' function and women should be
grateful for a healthy baby.
- When the Edinburgh Depression Scale is used to diagnose postnatal
depression, women with PTSD simply show up as depressed, not traumatized.
- Diagnosing PTSD means listening to the woman's story of trauma-and if you
believed her, you would be criticizing the professional colleagues who looked
- There is a shortage of psychiatrists and clinical psychologists who know
about and are able to treat it.(Robinson)
I suffered from PTSD after the birth of my son. The most important piece of advice I have for you is that it’s important to talk about what happened, even though you may not want to. Try to find a counselor or someone you trust to help you work through your memories and how you feel about the birth.
Do you have PTSD? Take this self-assessment created by Penny Simkin and Phyllis Klaus
One of the most important tools we have against Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after childbirth is prevention. That’s why I’ve created the
“Birth with E.A.S.E.” program...
E.A.S.E. stands for:
- Education: You need to be educated about what is supposed to happen in a normal childbirth, about your options during the birth like pain management, birthing positions, breathing, and how to deal with complications during birth. I recommend that every pregnant woman should educate themselves about what happens in your body during childbirth. Fear comes from lack of knowledge, and if you don’t know what’s happening, the more afraid and stressed out you will be. Childbirth is a natural process. Women have been doing it for thousands of years.
- Awareness: You need to be aware of what is being done to you and the baby during birth. It’s something called “Informed Consent.” You need to be informed by hospital staff of the risks of any and every procedure, and given a choice whether or not you want a procedure done, like inducing labor, an episiotomy, a cesarean section, cord clamping, etc. You also need to actively participate in your labor, don’t let it just happen to you. You have the right to speak up and say “No.”
- Support: Hospital or Birthing Center staff needs to be sensitive to your emotional state during this vulnerable time. They should be supportive and respectful of your desire for a normal birth, and should not intervene in any way if there are no complications. Every woman is entitled to a satisfying birth experience with the least possible risk to her or her baby. You also need to have a support person with you during the birth, and help lined up after you come home from the hospital.
- Expression: You need to express your feelings after the birth. Did the birth go as you planned? Where there complications? How satisfied are you with the birth? Are you disappointed? Are you distressed? What are your feelings? Be sure to share with someone you trust what you are thinking and feeling. If symptoms of trauma can be identified before leaving the hospital, counseling can begin immediately.
© Copyright 2016 Jodi Sabo
- Childbirth Connection. New Mothers Speak Out: National Survey Results Highlight Women’s Postpartum Experiences. 2008. www.childbirthconnection.org/newmothersspeakout/
- Beck, Cheryl Tatano. Impact of Birth Trauma on Breastfeeding. Nursing Research. 57(4):228-36, July/August 2008.
- Robinson J. Post traumatic disorder-a consumer view. http://www.aims.org.uk/Journal/Vol14No4/PtsdAimsVoice.htm