Trauma effects may continue long after the birth, with distinct psychological symptoms. Psychological symptoms may include:
Feelings of intense fear, helplessness or horror in reaction to reminders of the experience, for example words, smells, rooms, clinicians
Fear and anxiety about going outside
Memories (flashbacks) of the traumatic vaginal delivery during sexual relations
Trying to push feelings away and getting on with looking after your baby
Difficulty sleeping due to bad memories or reminders of the birth
Nightmares regarding the birth
Feelings of isolation
Irritability and guilt
Anxiety or panic attacks
Avoiding reminders of the traumatic birth such as the location where it occurred (avoidance reactions)
Feeling emotionally numb or detached from others, activities, or your surroundings
Alcohol and drug misuse
Struggling to bond with your baby
Sometimes the physical and psychological symptoms are intertwined, one having an extreme impact on the other.
We have listed a few effects here, but remember these may vary from woman to woman, so it is important to discuss everything and anything no matter how big or small with your healthcare professional.
The subsequent feelings and ability to cope with what has happened will be unique to each individual.
Being believed about birth trauma and/or injuries is vital in dealing with emotional distress
Distress can be exacerbated if you are not believed about physical pelvic floor and perineal injuries that have not been adequately assessed and treatment options given.
Lack of interest in sex and relationship issues are fairly normal for most new parents, but these are prolonged in a trauma situation.
Symptoms of pain, incontinence or prolapse may influence your relationship because often it is too embarrassing to explain physical damage to your partner.
Coming to terms with the experience of childbirth may take longer than the mother, or those close to her, expected.
If, as the months go by, the above signs and symptoms do not disappear, it is important to seek support from a health professional, for example a GP.
Hoping that the feelings will go away, or assuming that they are not important will inevitably be unhelpful.
There is support available.
Sharing experiences with expert urogynaecologists or a specialist women’s health physiotherapist may help to make sense of what has happened.
Correct diagnosis is important. These symptoms are not necessarily due to postnatal depression (PND) – although depression and anxiety are to be expected in these circumstances.
This broad term covers a range of difficulties usually including low mood, poor quality sleep, low energy, poor appetite, tearfulness, pessimism and anxiety symptoms (excessive and inappropriate worrying). Many women experience mood swings in the early days after the birth of a baby (“baby blues”); hormones play a significant part in this process. However, postnatal depression (PND) describes more severe and prolonged symptoms lasting more than 1-2 weeks and interfering with the mother’s ability to function on a daily basis with normal routines of caring for the baby and the relationship with her partner.
Loss of enjoyment in most activities
Loss of self-esteem and confidence
Loss of appetite and weight
Inability to sleep restfully (irrespective of the baby)
Sense of hopelessness , guilt and being a failure or a ‘bad’ mother
Suicidal thoughts or ideas
Loss of libido
Fears for the safety or wellbeing of the baby and/or the partner.
As with the psychological trauma symptoms, PND is a condition that will require counselling, and possibly medication, from appropriate mental health professionals.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD)
PTSD is one of a group of Trauma and Stressor-related Disorders. People often associate these with war veterans, police officers, or paramedics, but trauma-related disorders are widespread in most communities and are more common in women than in men.
Not all trauma symptoms meet criteria for a formal diagnosis of PTSD, but that does not mean they involve less suffering. Although some women and partners may be relieved to hear there is a diagnostic label, such as PTSD, not everyone wants or requires a psychiatric diagnosis. In addition, co-morbidity is considerable, as it would hardly be surprising if the symptoms did not include or result in anxiety, depression, relationship problems, and many attempted strategies for self-treatment. When the symptoms interfere with the person’s life, professional help is likely to be needed.
Research linking birth trauma and PTSD is fairly limited at this stage; however, you can find some published articles on our research page
Both professional help and appropriate resources are available for you to access.
Before specific treatment for PTSD or another trauma-related disorder is approved you will require a comprehensive health assessment from your chosen health care professional.
Treatments include an array of psychological therapies and/or medication.
According to new research findings, both exercise and self-help therapies like ‘mindfulness’ can also be beneficial in the treatment of trauma. These activities can be safely used in conjunction with psychological therapies and medication.
Exercise is also beneficial in addressing factors such as sleep difficulties, anxiety, depression and weight gain.
Perhaps the most important thing to understand is that you can get better. Most women suffering from trauma disorders who seek professional help recommence full and satisfying lives both at home and at work.
A combination of physical, psychological and self-help strategies is usually required. This may include online programs.
In the end, it is a matter of finding the combination that works most successfully for you as an individual. Each person reacts differently to symptoms and other factors such as anxiety, so this will naturally influence your choices. It is also a good idea to seek advice from your doctor or mental health professional to ensure the most appropriate treatment to address your symptoms. Sometimes a team approach may be chosen for your situation, and in this case it is vital that one health care professional supervises all aspects of your care.
Speaking with your General Practitioner will enable you to best select the care plan that suits your needs. Your GP will work with a nurse to put you on a mental health care plan and may assist you in finding a specialist. We also strongly suggest word of mouth, speaking with other women either through your mothers’ group or on forums. Ideally your specialist should be an expert in birth trauma.