Birth trauma is another term for post-traumatic stress disorder after childbirth. A traumatic birth can result from feeling out of control during birth, if things happen that you weren’t prepared for or if you and/or your baby’s health was impacted or threatened. Some women who have had birth trauma go on to have future births that are positive and healing whereas others choose not to have any further children. Recovery from birth trauma is an ongoing process and takes time.
Symptoms of birth trauma can involve re-experiencing the birth through flashbacks or nightmares. These memories mean that you experience the same emotions you felt at that time and can make you very anxious and fearful.
Some women find that they cannot do, say, or experience things that remind them of the birth trauma. This might mean that they do not want to revisit the place the birth trauma occurred and try not to think about or talk about the birth.
Other symptoms of birth trauma involve being overly alert to danger, being irritable and overly anxious about things that could go wrong. Women who experience birth trauma may also have feelings of guilt and blame themselves. There might also be issues with remembering exactly what happened. Memory loss is common when trauma has occurred.
Birth trauma can co-occur with postnatal depression, but it is not the same thing and the two conditions require different approaches for recovery.
Some women find it helpful to attend a debriefing session to explore what happened during the birth and talk it through with a midwife or other healthcare professional. Contact your midwife, or the maternity unit at your Trust to ask for more information.
Looking after the mental health of pregnant women, new mothers and those who have experienced birth loss or birth trauma is a top priority of the NHS.
The Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust (KMPT) has been selected to be an Early Implementer site for this new service, as part of a testing phase taking place in all regions of England through 2021/22.
Thrive – Psychological Support for Birth Trauma and Loss is being piloted in east Kent, as a joint partnership between the Kent and Medway Partnership Trust’s (KMPT’s) Specialist Psychologists in the Mother and Infant Mental Health Service (MIMHS), Specialist Mental Health Midwives at the East Kent Hospitals University Foundation Trust (EKHUFT) and Peer Support Workers: women with lived experience of birth trauma and birth loss.
The service will provide psychological therapy, advice and support to women with moderate to complex mental health difficulties resulting from their maternity experience.
Referrals can be made by contacting the team on 01227 768928 who can provide the referral form and details for submission. Self-referrals are not accepted.
It is possible to get help if you have experienced birth trauma. For some women, a debriefing session will be enough. Others find that they respond better to talking therapy and some women find that medication can be an important part of their recovery.
Find out about self-referral to mental health support here.
Some women can develop obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) for the first time during pregnancy and early parenthood.
OCD is an anxiety disorder when a person can experience unwelcome thoughts, as well as compulsive behaviours. Thoughts could be about accidentally or deliberately harming their child, or their child becoming ill.
It is very normal for mums and mums-to-be to occasionally experience these feelings and worries. But for some, they can find themselves very distressed and try to manage their anxieties or prevent their fears from coming true through compulsory behaviours such as cleaning, avoiding activities or having no breaks from caring for their baby.
It’s important if you have any concerns to ask for help, whether from your partner, friend, health visitor or GP. If you have a pre-existing mental health problem, you can contact the specialist perinatal mental health teams in West Kent, Medway and Swale and East Kent for advice.