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What Is Birth Trauma?

by The Beasley Firm  |  April 28, 2021  |  

It is common knowledge that giving birth can be very painful; for this, most expecting mothers are prepared. However, many people are unaware of birth trauma, a psychological condition occurring in the postpartum period that is very similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) but which lacks some of the symptoms required to obtain a full PTSD diagnosis. In some cases, medical professionals use the term “birth trauma” to refer to a case of PTSD specifically relating to childbirth. But what causes a person to develop birth trauma and why do some people experience it while others do not?

What Causes Birth Trauma?

There are many factors that can lead to birth trauma. The reason why there is a discrepancy in who develops birth trauma and who does not can be chalked up to whether the mother as a person considers their birth to have been traumatic. According to Psychology Today, trauma itself is reliant on the “subjective experience of an event and to what extent they believe their life, bodily integrity, or psychological well-being was threatened.”

Please note that this does not mean people experiencing birth trauma can simply brush over what happened and forget it. The fact of the matter is, doing so would just exacerbate the severity of their birth trauma or lead to fully developed PTSD down the line. The sooner the trauma is acknowledged, the sooner action can be taken to treat any related symptoms, find closure, and move on with life without fear.

Some common experiences during childbirth that could lead to birth trauma include:

  • Having a prolonged or very short and painful labor;
  • Needing to have labor induced;
  • Requiring assisted delivery with forceps or vacuum extractors;
  • Needing an emergency cesarean section;
  • Suffering a birthing injury;
  • Your child suffering a birth injury;
  • Being ignored by attending medical professionals; and
  • Not feeling supported before, during, or after birth.

Sometimes, feeling a loss of control or dignity or being dehumanized or ignored by those assisting with your childbirth can be traumatic enough to lead to birth trauma. In addition, a history of birth trauma and/or anxiety may increase a person’s chances of developing the condition.

How Common Is Birth Trauma?

Currently, there are no accurate statistics concerning the rate of birth trauma in the United States because there has been a lack of population-based studies. Fortunately, across the pond, much more extensive research has been done on the matter. In the United Kingdom, studies have found that as many as 1 in 3 women may develop birth trauma. Their partners may also develop birth trauma after witnessing their traumatic birthing experience.

Birth Trauma Symptoms

If you are unsure whether you have birth trauma, The Birth Trauma Association (BTA) classifies the four main symptoms as:

  • Reliving the trauma through vivid flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, nightmares, negative physical sensations (nausea, trembling, pain, etc.);
  • Avoiding any feelings/memories associated with the trauma, such as constantly having to keep yourself occupied, avoiding reminders of the trauma, and experiencing memory loss in relation to the trauma;
  • Feeling hypervigilant, such as being overly alert and irritable, experiencing insomnia or anxiety, engaging in self-destructive behavior, and having trouble concentrating; and
  • Feeling in low spirits, as though you cannot trust anyone and are alone in your experiences. You may blame yourself for the trauma and feel terrible anger, guilt, and/or shame about it.

As you can see, birth trauma symptoms are very similar to those of PTSD. People with both birth trauma and PTSD, like any other mental illness, are likely to be affected by the stigma surrounding such issues. Thus, it is important to remember that there is nothing wrong with having a mental illness. If your loved one is one of these people, supporting them can go a long way toward making them feel less alone and less stigmatized.

Is Birth Trauma the Same as Postpartum Depression?

Postpartum depression (PPD) is not the same as birth trauma, although it is likely that a mother living with birth trauma will also develop PPD. The BTA highlights the distinction between the two: Mothers with PPD do not experience the feeling that they are constantly reliving their traumatic experience while people with birth trauma do.

On a related note, neither birth trauma nor PPD is to be confused with the “baby blues,” which are the psychological effects of fluctuating hormones after birth. Usually, these feelings only last for two to three days and begin about three to 10 days after the date of birth

Birth Trauma Counseling

To effectively treat birth trauma, mental health professionals will use one of two therapies: trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).

Trauma-focused CBT is aimed at how a person thinks and reacts to their symptoms. There will be no further dissection of what led to the development of birth trauma; instead, patients will learn tools to help them deal with any symptoms when they arise. Over time (about 8 to 12 sessions for many people), patients learn how to manage their symptoms, which then become less severe.

EMDR is focused on stopping flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, and the like through guided eye movements. During an eight-phase treatment process, a psychotherapist will utilize lateral eye movements to simulate rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and heal psychological wounds caused by the trauma. Patients often experience a reframing of their experience and are able to move on with their lives.

Birth trauma counseling is highly recommended, as birth trauma can negatively impact a person’s life and, as mentioned, may develop into regular PTSD if left untreated. Furthermore, people living with maternal birth trauma may be scared to give birth again despite wanting another child. Treatment can help address this fear so mothers are able to live their lives as they desire.

About The Beasley Firm

If you have developed birth trauma as a result of a birth injury caused by medical malpractice, our attorneys at The Beasley Firm will fight to protect your rights. The party responsible for your trauma should be held accountable for their actions, and you may be able to recover compensation. We understand money cannot fix what happened, but it can help you find closure, prevent other people from going through the same trauma, and assist you in paying for treatment.

For compassionate legal counsel, contact a Philadelphia attorney at The Beasley Firm online.

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