Fathers & Partners

Birthing Partners’ experience birth trauma too

We recognise the vital role that fathers and partners play in the lives of women affected by psychological and/or physical trauma and acknowledge the trauma those fathers and partners experience themselves during a traumatic birth. The first section speaks to fathers/partners who are themselves navigating birth trauma. The second section is written for women who are concerned about their partner after a traumatic birth.
We hope this information encourages fathers and partners to seek help and understand they are not alone and that support is available.

Are you a father/partner navigating birth trauma?

After witnessing a difficult birth experience, it is a significant time for all concerned, including fathers and partners. You may be juggling many roles such as: supporter of your wife/partner; work responsibilities; and parent to the new baby and older children. During the postnatal period, fathers and partners are also vulnerable to depression and anxiety, and may find it hard to get the support they need.
Below are some of the common symptoms experienced by fathers and partners after a traumatic birth.

Reliving the birth/traumatic event

Reliving the event through unwanted and recurring memories, including vivid images and/or nightmares. This may cause you to experience intense emotional or physical reactions, such as sweating, heart palpitations or panic when reminded of or discussing the birth or events.

Being overly alert or wound up

Being overly alert or wound up can lead you to experience sleeping difficulties, irritability and lack of concentration, becoming easily startled and constantly on the lookout for signs of danger.

Avoiding reminders of the event

Some parents find themselves wanting to deliberately avoid activities, places, people,
thoughts or feelings associated with the birth or aftercare event because it brings back
painful memories.

Feeling emotionally numb

You may find yourself losing interest in day-to-day activities, feeling cut off and
detached from friends and family, or feeling emotionally flat and numb.

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It is estimated that 1 in 10 fathers experience postnatal depression.1

This is particularly true when there has been a traumatic or negative birth experience, for example:

  • haemorrhage (excessive bleeding)
  • concerns about the baby’s or mother’s survival
  • physical damage
  • unexpected emergency surgical intervention
  • baby in NICU
  • Mum in ICU.

Your wife/partner may have been confused, semi-conscious or dissociated, rather than fully aware of what was happening. You, however, you were probably fully aware.

We urge you to consider the following when trying to work out the best course of action:

  • Read our Family and Friends Resource for information that will help you support your wife/partner effectively.
  • Try to keep communication open with your partner so you can seek solutions together if she is is open to discussion. The addition of expert counselling for both of you is recommended. This will help you both address your experiences and work out a solution. Seeking help together may assist in addressing relationship issues that you may not have been prepared for, some of which may have surfaced after the new babies arrival.
  • If your partner is happy for you to do so, attend physical and psychological appointments together so they can fully explain their findings to you both.
    Remember to seek support for yourself. The resources listed at the bottom of this page may help you find suitable support services.
  • Engage in self-care activities, such as exercise and eating well, and ask friends and family for practical help to facilitate this. You need to be able to refill your cup so you can continue to support your wife/partner.
Fathers and Partners
Credit: Debi Brett

Are you concerned about your husband/partner?

If your birth was traumatic, consider the fact that your partner had to witness someone they love go through a distressing event. Further, they may have experienced the fear that you or your baby could have died.
 
There can be a number of reasons that some dads/partners may not seek help:
  • Dads/partners can feel that they need to be strong because they weren’t the person to give birth.
  • Many men are afraid of asking for help.
  • Dads/partners may not realise they have a problem.
  • There is still a stigma associated with mental health problems.
  • It may be difficult to start the conversation, so they often hold their feelings in. 
 
When either of you are experiencing psychological symptoms, it is vital to consult your family doctor and arrange appropriate referral for counselling and/or medication.
 
Your partner may also be confused because they do not truly understand the nature of your physical injuries after the birth. 
 
They may feel upset because their attempts at being close to you can be misinterpreted as demands for sex. They may feel despair that there was nothing they could do to fix the problems you experienced. Or they may feel guilty for getting you pregnant in the first place, with the result that they too avoid physical intimacy.
 
So what can you do to support your husband/partner if you suspect they are struggling? Below is a list of suggestions to help you decide on the best course of action:
  • You should both read our Family and Friends Resource for information that will help them support you effectively. 
  • Try to keep communication open with your partner so you can seek solutions together. The addition of expert counselling for both of you is recommended.  
  • It is helpful for your husband/partner to also attend your appointments for physical and psychological assessments so they can fully understand your diagnoses.
  • Encourage them to seek the support they need. Many dads experience anxiety and depression as new fathers so they are not alone. The Resources listed at the bottom of this page may help them find suitable support services.
  • Encourage them to engage in nourishing self care activities as well as helping with tasks that involve the baby, this will be beneficial for the whole family.

Resources

We recommend reading our Family and Friends Resource for more information on how to support a woman who has experienced birth trauma. 
 
For those that need support after a negative birth experience, we encourage you to contact our Peer2Peer Support Program to talk about their experience with someone who has walked this journey before them. 

Dedicated services for Dads

Podcasts

Books

Reference: 1. Paulson, J. F. & Bazemore, S. D. (2010). Prenatal and postpartum depression in fathers and its association with maternal depression: A meta-analysis. JAMA, 303(19), 1961-1969. (doi:10.1001/jama.2010.605).

You can find more services on our main Support Services page.