Generally speaking, a traumatic event is psychologically distressing and unexpected. This sudden event has the potential overcome the stressor (the mother in the case of psychological birth trauma, PBT) and cause them to experience intense fear or feelings of helplessness. Following a crisis, the availability of interpersonal support to the mother is crucial to the speed of her mental recovery.
In the UK, studies have highlighted that only 2-6% of traumatic births meet the criteria for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, up to one third of women would describe their labour as traumatic.”
THE COMMON SYMPTOMS OF BIRTH TRAUMA CAN BE SUBTLE:
- Avoid talking about anything that reminds the mother of the birth – this may lead to numbing or emotional detachment, as well as difficulties in sleeping and concentrating
- Re-experiencing the birth through nightmares and flashbacks; it is common for traumatised mothers to feel anxious when presented with stimuli that remind them of labour and birth
- Difficulty in bonding with the baby – this can result in feelings of guilt
- Isolation and loneliness
- Fear of future pregnancy and birth
POSTNATAL DEPRESSION IS DIFFERENT FROM BIRTH TRAUMA
Although they share similar symptoms, postnatal depression (PND) and postnatal birth trauma (PBT) are two distinct illnesses that need to be treated differently.
Due to poor awareness of the issue, many women with PBT are misdiagnosed with PND and are prescribed anti-depressants, which may not be able to help them. A possible 25% of women with PTSD do not suffer PND at all and thus their suffering could remain entirely undetected.
ANYONE CAN SUFFER FROM BIRTH TRAUMA
An individual may be more prone to birth trauma if…
- Labour is long and painful
- Forceps / Ventouse are used to assist the birth
- The mother has to undergo an emergency cesarean-section to deliver
- The baby is born with a mental or physical disability
- The mother feels powerless during the birth
- The mother is worried about her baby’s or her life or health during and after the birth
- Hospital carers are unsupportive/unsympathetic during the birth
THE BEST SOLUTION FOR TREATING BIRTH TRAUMA IS SUPPORT
Mothers suffering from birth trauma should be able to confide in their family, midwives and medical carers if they are feeling any uncertainty or mental discomfort after the birth.
If symptoms worsen, it is advised to seek further guidance from a counselor or PTSD expert, or take part in the hospital’s own debriefing service. However, it is of the upmost importance that loving and supportive people surround the mother at this time.
THERE ARE SEVERAL ISSUES SURROUNDING DIAGNOSIS OF BIRTH TRAUMA
Fundamentally, the issues surrounding diagnosing birth trauma stem from a lack of awareness of the condition. As previously discussed, the common misconception that the terms ‘Birth Trauma’ and ‘Postnatal Depression’ are interchangeable leads to misdiagnosis, and many cases of birth trauma may go undetected.
The absence of an effective screening method also has negative implications for birth trauma diagnosis. Hospitals and medical centers should address the lack of referral services and support to women suffering from birth trauma.
MISDIAGNOSIS AND FAILURE TO DIAGNOSE BIRTH TRAUMA CAN HAVE SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES
If untreated, it is possible for PTSD to result increased physical morbidity and psychiatric illness. PTSD is a likely gateway into depression and anxiety, which comes with its own consequences.
More specifically to birth trauma, sufferers may develop a fear of childbirth (tokophobia) and avoid sex (in order to avoid future conception). Partly due to the lack of support for traumatised mothers, sufferers may also avoid further medical care. It can also lead to a breakdown in marital relationships, as mothers often feel their partners don't understand what they're going through and the avoidance of sex can cause problems.