What is Birth Trauma?

What is Birth Trauma or Birth-related trauma?

The delivery of a baby is a positive event for many women, but for some it can be a mixed experience or even very negative, resulting in physical and/or psychological injuries (trauma) with lasting negative impacts on their lives. We are here to help women and their partners who are struggling with ongoing problems related to the birthing experience.


We, at ABTA, define birth trauma as a wound, serious injury or damage – it can be physical or psychological (deeply upsetting and distressing) or a combination of both. Both mother and the father/partner can be affected by birth trauma. For mums, please keep reading for further information relating to types of physical and psychological trauma and steps to follow to get help. We also have information especially for Fathers & Partners and Friends and Family.

Physical Birth Trauma

Physical trauma (birth injuries) may or may not be identified straight away. You may be the first to notice that something isn’t right. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. It is important to understand that physical birth injuries may require you to seek expert medical advice and assessment.

Physical trauma can present as:

For more information visit our Physical Birth Trauma Page.

Psychological Birth Trauma

Psychological trauma may arise as a result of an extreme disconnect between an expectation of what would happen and what actually happened during the birth. For example, huge value could be placed on having a calm and natural birth and if this type of imagined birth doesn’t occur, many new mothers feel a sense of failure which can be made worse by feelings of not being prepared for an outcome that they didn’t expect.

The shock of what actually happened during birth can bring about a number of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, and other disorders. Some people experience severe emotional distress after a traumatic birth even though there was no physical trauma. It is also important to note that trauma can continue long after the birth, with distinct psychological symptoms.

Psychological trauma can present as:

  • Postnatal depression and/or anxiety (PNDA)
  • Post-partum post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) (For example obsessive thoughts that can affect our behaviour such as checking on baby constantly or recurring thoughts that impact your enjoyment of daily life).

For more information visit our  Psychological Birth Trauma page.

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Getting Help

Have you tried talking about your feelings? Doing this may help you more get some insight into why and how things are?

You may find talking to some of the following people useful as you begin your journey of seeking help:

If you feel you need health professional support, the sooner you do so, the sooner you can start your recovery and find coping tools for both at home and at work. It may also be a good idea to have a trusted friend/supporter to accompany you if you are a bit nervous by taking this first step.

There is also a wide choice of useful treatments subsidised by Medicare, Care Plans set up by your GP, ACC (NZ), Private Health cover and other online sources. A good starting point could be speaking to your GP, midwife, obstetrician or early childhood nurse. We recommend that if you speak with your GP, talk about overall health and make sure you ask for a longer appointment when you book.

These health professionals will be able you to understand your level of need and refer you to the appropriate provider such as:
  • Counsellor
  • Social worker
  • Psychologist
  • Psychiatrist
  • Specialist women’s health (pelvic floor) physiotherapist.
  • Gynaecologist
  • Urogynaecologist

If your symptoms are birth injury related and you are early postpartum, there may be outpatient public health (hospital) options available through the hospital you gave birth at. However, this isn’t always an option, so women usually seek the care of a pelvic health physiotherapist working in a private practice. Some women may be eligible to receive a rebate from Medicare if they are referred by their GP through a management plan. To be eligible of this Medicare benefit, your GP must deem that the condition is ongoing or ‘chronic’, and you may be eligible for up to 5 allied health visits per year under a Team Care Arrangement.

Some birth injuries may not be diagnosed at the time of the birth. This is due to the complexity of pelvic floor dysfunction some types of damage may happen underneath the skin or in the vagina and may not be noticed or you may be symptomless and still have physical trauma to the pelvic floor.

If you suspect that you may have pelvic floor muscle damage finding a team of trusted health professionals is the key to your recovery. Our private Facebook support group is a useful resource as you can ask questions from mothers that may have experienced similar problems and while the information that you receive in the support group shouldn’t replace the advice of a medical professional, it can be very helpful to speak to your peers too.

There are many different health professionals who can assist and provide treatment in the management of birth trauma. It can be confusing to consider what type of doctor or specialist needs to be seen, who to speak to, and who specialises in what. You may find our Birth Trauma Care Guide, which outlines the types of health professionals associated with both types of birth trauma, helpful. Above all, be patient – healing takes time, and working together will make this journey easier for all involved.

Some women have reported to us negative experiences they’ve had when seeking help. For example, being told that nothing is wrong with them, when they feel like something isn’t right, or they may have been mis-diagnosed, or they’ve had to go back to the hospital they experienced the trauma in to get help. You might need to look around, and you might need to be your own advocate, but there ARE people out there who really want to help you recover.

Once you have been given a specialist referral, we recommend finding out more to ensure that they have the experience and expertise you require. Birth trauma is still a relatively new area of focus, and finding the right health professional is an extremely important part of your recovery process. If you are unsure, it may also be useful to seek a second opinion.

Getting information that may help you understand what has happened

If you are feeling confused about your experience in hospital, it may help to obtain details of what actually happened. This may provide insight into what interventions were used and why. Whilst this may be painful to relive, you may feel a sense of relief or closure. You could do this by discussing your notes with your midwife or obstetrician.

Find Time For You

Be gentle with yourself. Your body has done an amazing thing to give birth so do not feel ashamed if you are struggling to cope. Take it day by day and rest when you can. As difficult as it may be in the early weeks, try to make time for you. Activities such as a gentle walk, reading a book, trying meditation (we love Mind the Bump or Calm) or using other relaxation techniques can all help.

Try to nourish your body with good whole foods and avoid processed food and sugars as much as you can. Fresh air and sunshine with moderate exercise may improve your mood and sleep quality. Try and get your partner involved as much you can, so that you can catch up on sleep when possible. Not only will this help you but your whole family will benefit from this extra bonding experience.
If anyone offers help, accept it. Ask for food or help around the house. Often women and their families are so focused on the baby that the emotional well-being of the mother (or partner) takes a lower priority. Some mothers assume things will get better with time; however, recovery from birth trauma is complex and the sooner you seek help the better.