Birth Trauma Awareness Week: Everything You Need To Know
This week is Birth Trauma Awareness Week, hosted by the Birth Trauma Association, since 2017. The birth trauma association realised that there was a widespread lack of awareness about birth trauma as well as where you can go to get help. The first campaign in 2017 was so successful and found great national coverage in newspapers and by the BBC. So many women found the Birth Trauma Association because of this and awareness and support has continued to grow ever since.
The theme of this year's Awareness Week is ‘Connections’. This might be connecting with your baby, partner, community or even yourself after birth trauma. Reconnecting is especially relevant this year with the current coronavirus pandemic.
What is birth trauma?
Birth trauma is distress experienced by a mother during or after childbirth. Birth trauma often combines physical birth injury with emotional and psychological trauma. Birth trauma can be a form of PTSD but is often used as a blanket term to describe any feeling of feelings experienced after birth.
Birth trauma can mean upsetting flashbacks or nightmares, hyperarousal which means you are in a constant state of anxiety and high alert which can materialize as watching your baby constantly to make sure they’re breathing or not letting others hold your baby through fear they will hurt them or make them sick. Avoidance of anything that reminds you of birth or pregnancy is also common with birth trauma, like TV programmes or hospital visits.
How does birth trauma happen?
A particularly long or complicated birth is often the start of birth trauma, where the mother fears her or her baby might die. Use of forceps, emergency C-sections or post-partum haemorrhages are all common in the births of women who suffer with birth trauma. Additionally, a birth may look straightforward to outsiders but can feel extremely traumatic to the mother. Birth trauma can also happen to birth partners after witnessing a traumatic birth.
Research suggests about 4% of women who give birth will develop birth related PTSD, and in the UK that amounts to about 30,000 women per year.
Risk factors for birth trauma
Birth trauma is more likely in women who exhibit these risk factors. It’s important to note that having one or more of these risk factors does not automatically mean you have birth trauma and likewise some women may not have experienced these risk factors yet still experience birth trauma.
- Your birth experience not going to plan or not matching your expectations
- Having a long and difficult labour
- Needing interventions like forceps or emergency C-section
- You or your baby suffering with a birth injury
- You or your baby needing medical medical attention or a hospital stay after birth
- Stillbirth or neonatal death
- Not receiving the proper care or support you needed during the birth or afterwards
- Previous birth trauma
- Existing mental health conditions or PTSD
- Previous trauma (domestic violence, rape, child sexual abuse)
Is birth trauma the same as postnatal depression?
Not quite. There can be an overlap in symptoms but they are 2 different conditions. Many women with birth trauma say that they knew something wasn’t right but they were sure it wasn't depression. A strong sign that it’s birth trauma instead of PND is flashbacks or nightmares being present.
It’s possible to suffer with both conditions at the same time. You will need separate treatment for each of the 2 conditions.
Birth trauma treatment and support
The birth trauma association offers lots of support. You can speak to one of their team of peer supporters who have all had their own birth trauma and help other women with theirs, their email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. They also have a highly active Facebook group with over 11K members. The group is a great way to link with other women who share your experiences and know exactly how you’re feeling. Follow this link to join https://www.facebook.com/groups/TheBTA
Many women will benefit from professional help so it’s a good idea to speak with your GP, midwife or other health professional. They can signpost you to further support or offer you a referral for further therapy like CBT.
We hope you enjoyed this blog, why not check out "I don't want to hold my baby" or Why All Pregnant Women Should Be Doing Perineal Massage
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