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Unveiling the Unspoken: Understanding Birth Trauma and Its Postpartum Impact

Unveiling the Unspoken: Understanding Birth Trauma and Its Postpartum Impact

Bringing new life into the world is often portrayed as a joyful and serene experience, but for many families, the reality can be vastly different. A 2018 study by the Journal of Perinatal Education suggested up to 45% of women reported having a traumatic birthing experience.  So nearly half the population is having a hard time, yet we’re not really talking about it? Having a traumatic or difficult birth journey can have profound effects on a mother's mental and emotional well-being during the postpartum period, and it often goes undiscussed, as mothers are thrust into early parenthood. Let’s talk about birth trauma and what it means to new parents.  

What is Birth Trauma?

Birth trauma refers to a distressing or deeply disturbing experience during childbirth that leaves a lasting psychological impact on the mother. This can encompass a wide range of events, including but not limited to:

Emergency medical interventions: Unforeseen complications during labor, such as emergency cesarian sections or the use of forceps or vacuum extraction, can be traumatic for the mother.

Perceived loss of control: Feeling helpless or powerless during labor, particularly if birth preferences are disregarded or medical decisions are made without adequate consultation, can contribute to trauma.

Physical injury: Trauma can result from physical injuries sustained during childbirth, such as severe tearing or episiotomies.

Unwanted outcomes: Mothers may experience trauma if the birth does not go as planned, leading to feelings of disappointment, guilt, or grief, especially in cases of stillbirth, neonatal death, or birth injuries to the baby.

It often is the physical trauma we discuss, but let’s acknowledge that the emotional ones, the lack of control, the broken expectations are the ones often most impactful.  

How can a traumatic birth experience impact us?

The aftermath of birth trauma can extend well beyond the delivery room, significantly influencing the postpartum experience. Some common effects include:

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Women who experience birth trauma may develop symptoms of PTSD, such as intrusive thoughts or memories of the traumatic event, flashbacks, hypervigilance, and avoidance of anything related to childbirth.

Anxiety and Depression: Birth trauma can exacerbate feelings of anxiety and depression during the postpartum period, making it challenging for mothers to bond with their newborns or engage in daily activities.

Impact on Mother-Infant Bonding: Difficulty bonding with their baby is not uncommon among mothers who have experienced birth trauma. This can have long-term implications for the mother-infant relationship and the child's emotional development.

Reduced Self-Esteem and Confidence: Women may struggle with feelings of inadequacy or failure if their birth experience did not meet their expectations, leading to a decline in self-esteem and confidence as mothers.

Across the word there is early recognition to the importance of maternal mental health.  One might even argue it is the most important influence on positive outcomes for mothers and children.  Maternal mental health forms the blueprint upon which a child's emotional landscape is drawn, and we can do a lot to improve mental health outcomes following birth trauma.   

Seeking Support and Healing

Acknowledging and addressing birth trauma is crucial for promoting healing and recovery during the postpartum period. Here are some steps that mothers can take:

Talk About It: Sharing their birth story with a trusted friend, partner, or mental health professional can be therapeutic for mothers struggling with birth trauma.

Seek Professional Help: Therapy, particularly trauma-focused therapy such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), can help mothers process their traumatic experiences and develop coping strategies.

Join Support Groups: Connecting with other mothers who have experienced birth trauma can provide validation, empathy, and a sense of community. Online forums, support groups, or local meetups can be valuable resources.

Practice Self-Care: Engaging in self-care activities such as exercise, mindfulness, journaling, or relaxation techniques can help mothers manage stress and promote well-being.

Birth trauma is a complex and multifaceted issue that can have significant implications for postpartum mental health and well-being. Talking about it and taking care of our mental health can make it better, for you and your baby. 

June 19, 2024
3 min read
Shannon Deacon
Shannon is a mom of a very cool 4.5 year old boy, and a therapist in private practice with a Masters in Social Work. She is also a survivor of Post Partum Depression. Shannon uses her private therapy practice to support women, men, children and families of all shapes and sizes with the hard things life offers. She has a particular interest in supporting families on the perinatal journey and offers individual and group therapy for new parents. She is a part of the East Toronto Perinatal Relational Therapy Group (www. and offers a six-week post-natal New Moms Support group at her office on the Danforth (check out her website or her Instagram for more information!).