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:
- Perineal tears
- Pelvic floor muscle damage
- Pelvic organ prolapse (POP)
- Pelvic fractures (public bone, coccyx, sacrum)
- Cesarean wounds
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.
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).
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You may find talking to some of the following people useful as you begin your journey of seeking help:
- Your partner, family or friends
- Your mothers’ group
- A community or religious leader
- Chat with one of our Peer2Peer Mentors
- Join our Facebook support group
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.
- Social worker
- Specialist women’s health (pelvic floor) physiotherapist.
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.
Getting information that may help you understand what has happened
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.