Understanding psychological birth trauma
The signs and symptoms of psychological birth trauma
Below is a list of common symptoms of psychological birth trauma1. These symptoms may continue long after the birth:
- Feelings of intense fear, helplessness or horror in reaction to reminders of the experience, for example words, smells, rooms, clinicians, a particular hospital
- Fear and anxiety about going outside
- Poor self-image
- Memories (flashbacks) of the delivery during sexual relations
- Trying to push feelings away and getting on with looking after your baby
- Difficulty sleeping or nightmares
- Feelings of isolation
- Feelings of guilt
- Anxiety or panic attacks
- Avoiding reminders of the traumatic birth such as the location where it happened or a tendency to become stressed or anxious when being close to the location. Triggers like this can show up in different ways
- Feeling unemotional, numb or detached from others, activities, or surroundings
- Alcohol and drug misuse
- Distress caused by the physical birth injuries that you may be managing.
Your partner or other birthing support person may also be traumatised, e.g. by the experience of fear for the survival of you or the baby during the labour or birth.
During the birth experience:
- Feelings of loss of control
- Feeling not being listened to or respected
- Feeling not supported by your partner, and/or health professional during labour
- Inadequate or failed pain relief/refused pain relief
- Thinking you were going to die
- Stillbirth or other pregnancy-related adversity
- Previous sexual or other abuse
- Previous mental health problems
- Inadequate or failed pain relief/refused pain relief.2
- Physical birth injuries that you may be managing
The shock of what happened during the birth process can bring about a number of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, and other disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Some people experience severe emotional distress after a traumatic birth even though there was no physical trauma. There may also be other contributors to your trauma that are not listed here.
You can read more about perinatal mental health conditions on our postnatal anxiety, depression and PTSD pages.