Birth Trauma

What is Birth Trauma?

Birth Trauma is another name for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after birth.

In the UK, an estimated 20,000 women a year develop birth trauma. About 200,000 – feel traumatised by childbirth and experience some PTSD symptoms. Some partners, too, suffer PTSD from witnessing a traumatic birth.

Examples of a traumatic birth could include:

  • Lengthy labour or short and very painful labour
  • Induction
  • Instrumental delivery such as forceps
  • Emergency Caesarean section
  • Loss of blood after birth (Postpartum Haemorrhage)
  • Poor pain relief
  • Feelings of loss of control
  • Feeling unsupported by staff or that staff were hostile
  • Fear of death or permanent damage
  • Birth of a damaged baby (a disability resulting from birth trauma)
  • Stillbirth
  • Baby's stay in SCBU/NICU (Baby Special Care or Neonatal Unit)
There are four main causes
  • Re-experiencing the traumatic event through flashbacks, nightmares, or intrusive memories. These make you feel distressed and panicky
  • Avoiding anything that reminds you of the trauma. This can mean refusing to walk past the hospital where you gave birth or avoiding meeting other women with new babies
  • Feeling hypervigilant: this means that you are constantly alert, irritable, and jumpy. You worry that something terrible is going to happen to your baby
  • Feeling low and unhappy (“negative cognition” in the medical jargon). You may feel guilty and blame yourself for your traumatic birth. You may have difficulty remembering parts of your birth experience

Not everyone who has had a traumatic experience suffers from PTSD, but many do. It’s a completely normal response, and not a sign of weakness. It’s also involuntary: brain scans show a difference between the brains of people with PTSD and those without. PTSD is not something that can be cured by “pulling yourself together” or “focusing on the positive,” despite what other people tell you.

Early detection, referral and support can have lasting, positive outcomes and improved wellbeing. 

The best person to speak to if you feel you need some support is your health care professional such as your health visitor, GP, or midwife. They will discuss your difficulties with you and may recommend the Lancashire and South Cumbria Reproductive Trauma Service to you or an appropriate alternative.

If you need urgent help

We’re sorry you’re struggling. Know that you are not alone, and you can ask for help.

If you’re in need of urgent help with your mental health, please either

  • Contact your GP surgery
  • visit Accident and emergency at the local hospital
  • Contact Mental Health crisis helpline 08009530110 24 hrs/7 days a week
  • Call Samaritans directly on 116123
  • Text SHOUT to 85258 to start a confidential conversation with a trained shout volunteer
  • Contact CALM on their national helpline: 0800 58 58 58 (5pm - midnight)