Psychological Birth Trauma

Understanding psychological birth trauma

You may have found this page because you have noticed changes in your behaviour, thoughts or feelings since the birth of your baby, or perhaps you have noticed changes in your partner or others close to you.
On this page you will find general information on common symptoms and treatments for mental health conditions related to birth trauma. Please note, this information does not cover every possible mental health condition or symptom and does not take into consideration your individual experience or situation. We encourage you to discuss your questions or concerns with your health professional.
Before you read further, there are a couple of things we would like you to know. If it felt traumatic to you, then it was. Experiences of trauma are unique and what may be traumatic for one person, may not be traumatic for another. Also, try not to compare your experience to other people’s. Your personal experience is valid and worthy of acknowledgment, treatment and recovery.

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
  • Irritability
  • 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.

You may be more vulnerable to these difficulties if you have experienced any of the following:

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 anxietydepression and PTSD pages.