What is Birth Trauma?

In the UK, it is estimated that up to 20,000 women per year experience a traumatic birth leading to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). As many as 200,000 women might also experience their childbirth as traumatising and develop some of the symptoms of PTSD. These feelings can have a profound impact on how women feel day-to-day, affecting many aspects of her life, and are a completely normal response to a traumatic experience.

All women experience childbirth differently. Some women experience their birth as a serious threat to their life and/or their babies, having a response of horror, intense fear or powerlessness. Others might have felt like they lacked control or privacy, were not cared for, were dismissed or not believed, or there was an atmosphere of hostility. This is not an exhaustive list.

Prof. Cheryl Beck describes this trauma as:

“Birth trauma involves actual or threatened serious injury or death to the mother or her infant during any phase of childbearing. It can also occur even if a woman does not perceive that she or her infant is at risk of serious injury or death.
Women can perceive their birth as traumatic if they perceive that they were stripped of their dignity during the birth process. Some women also did not feel cared for by the obstetrical team. This lack of caring stripped women of a protective layer during their labour and delivery and left them prime to perceive their birth as traumatic.”

This highlights that the complex mix of the delivery, and how women felt during this process, can result in experiencing childbirth as traumatising.

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