Birth trauma is something that can happen during childbirth when a labouring woman feels her childbirth experience is not going the way she had hoped, that the people around her aren't listening to her or an emergency occurs over which she has no control.
There are a number of things that together can contribute to a traumatic birth experience.
the labour may take much longer than expected, be much faster than the mother was prepared for, or it may be much more painful than expected;
the baby may need to be induced;
the mother may need to have an emergency c-section;
the mother may suffer severe perineal injury during the birth which requires stitches and further treatment in the future;
pain relief may be inadequate;
the baby may need to be delivered instrumentally, ie using forceps or a ventouse;
the baby may be hurt during the birth and left with birth injuries;
The baby may suffer shoulder dystocia during the birth;
the baby may require special care after birth which can result in a lengthy stay in the special care baby unit;
the mother may feel dismayed that she has lost all control of the birth;
the mother may fear that she will die or be left permanently damaged;
she may feel staff are not supportive of her wishes or are not taking her birth-plan seriously.
Any or all of these can lead to the mother suffering for a long time afterwards and can contribute to post-natal post traumatic stress disorder and also to post-natal depression.
The feelings associated with having experienced birth trauma can resurface at points in the future, particularly during subsequent pregnancies and if a birth experience was particularly traumatic, it can even prevent mothers considering pregnancy again in the future.
Post Natal Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms
Symptoms of post-natal post traumatic stress disorder can include:
the mother reliving the birth trauma through flashbacks, dreams or frequently intrusive thoughts about the birth;
She may find it hard to concentrate and experience problems bonding with the baby; she may have problems breastfeeding;
she may be unable to remember the birth or parts of it;
she may feel that her emotions have been numbed;
she may experience severe mood swings;
she may feel inadequate as a mother;
she may fear subsequent pregnancy in case the same things happen.
Post Natal PTSD vs Post Natal Depression
Although the two may seem similar and in many ways are, the main difference between post natal post traumatic stress disorder and postnatal depression is that flashbacks, recurring dreams and intrusive thoughts characterise post natal post traumatic stress disorder.
The two do overlap in many ways and in fact are both treated in similar ways. Although it has been recognised that psychotherapy is the best way to treat both disorders, the therapies available tend to have long waiting lists so many doctors prescribe medication such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) which are also used as antidepressants, fluoxetine (Prozac) being commonly prescribed.
Planning Your Baby's Birth
If you are concerned about your baby's birth or you have experienced Post Natal PTSD in the past, then a birth plan can help you to feel more in control of your baby's birth. (See our Sample Birth Plan). Talk through any fears you have with your midwife and gp as in some cases it may be possible for them to make a note of it in your hospital notes. You should also discuss your birth plan with your midwife so that she is aware of exactly what you want and don't want during your labour and childbirth.
If you are suffering from the effects of birth trauma, it is important you seek help and advice from your gp. You can also find further information about birth trauma and get support from others who have suffered at The Birth Trauma Association
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