The following information and guidance have been compiled with help from our friends at Make Birth Better. Head to their website: https://www.makebirthbetter.org/ for more resources on birth trauma and healing. See also their guide to therapies, treatment and psychological support in our downloadable guides section.
Sustaining a birth injury is a traumatic experience. The day your baby is born is often called one of the happiest days of your life. People don’t often speak about the fact that having a baby can be traumatising and inflict serious physical damage to the woman giving birth. When you had a difficult experience and you mention this to those around you, comments like ‘well, at least your baby is healthy, that’s all that matters can leave you to feel that what you’re going through is being dismissed or belittled. Many women feel scared to speak up for fear of being judged on their ability to parent, or that their comments will be interpreted as a rejection of their child.
At least 1 in 4 women find some aspect of their birth traumatic. 1 in 25 women of these women will develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD from a traumatic birth where you sustained a life-changing injury is also different from postnatal depression. PTSD symptoms can include:
- re-experiencing traumatic events
- using avoidance behaviours
- feeling a heightened sense of threat
- negative thoughts or feelings
This is why it is so important to know where to seek help with your mental and emotional health, as well as your physical health, after sustaining a 3rd or 4th degree tear.
There are a number of therapies and treatments that can help alleviate the symptoms of trauma after a difficult birth. It is also important to find the right therapist to be able to engage, trust and build a relationship. Therapy can help you process the memories of your traumatic birth in order to reduce the feelings of distress, fear and anxiety related to childbirth. If you are a parent this can help increase your sense of confidence as an individual in your own right and as a parent with your new baby. Trauma focused therapies are not just about following an approach, but also about developing a strong relationship with your therapist to feel safe and secure.
- Speak to your GP, Health Visitor or other health professional who can refer you to NHS therapy services. If there are long waiting lists you may want to consider seeing a private therapist. Although this can be a large financial commitment many therapists will offer reduced rates. It is always important to check that therapists are properly qualified and registered. Trauma work usually requires weekly sessions over several months.
THERAPIES AND TREATMENTS
- Cognitive Behavioural therapy (CBT) – this is a NICE recommended therapy for PTSD and trauma which works by identifying and challenging negative thoughts in relation to the traumatic experience, processing memories and reducing unhelpful strategies/behaviours
- Eye Movement Desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) – another NICE recommended therapy for PTSD and trauma which works by focusing on unprocessed memories in order to move them into long-term processed memory and developing coping strategies.
- Compassion focused therapy – to address feelings of guilt and shame experienced in connection with past trauma and to help clients to become kinder and more compassionate with themselves Somatic therapies – More of a focus on how the body reacts during a traumatic experience and how to lower the body’s arousal level when focusing on a traumatic event Antidepressants may be prescribed. The most common ones for PTSD and trauma symptoms are Paroxetine and Sertraline.
There are also a number of other strategies you might find helpful:
Psychoeducation – learning about how birth trauma affects your brain and body and why you have the symptoms you do
Grounding techniques – learning to bring yourself back to the present if you are experiencing a flashback or distressing images
Learning relaxation and breathing techniques to help lower your body’s reaction to the trauma
Writing down your birth story, feelings or letters to key people in the process (midwives, partners, doctors) which can help make better sense of your experience
Drawing or painting your experiences as a way of healing
Speaking with empathic others about the birth
Focusing on your wellbeing through such things as yoga, massage, eating well, going for walks
Joining a birth trauma support group to be able to share your experiences
Writing a letter of complaint to your hospital. Taking advantage of a debriefing service at your hospital where you can review your medical birth notes with a midwife.