Bringing a child into the world should be a joyful time for mothers and their families, but sadly childbirth is not always such a positive and life-affirming experience.
Birth Trauma Awareness Week (August 14th – 21st), an initiative from The Birth Trauma Association (BTA), highlights the issues faced by mothers who have suffered a traumatic birth.
A difficult birth can be a traumatising event for new mothers. It can effect mental and physical health, and a mother’s ability to bond with her baby. Sadly, it’s all too common for women to experience birth trauma. One woman’s account of her traumatic birth experience was recently shared over 90,000 times on social media – with many more similar stories on the web.
How we can help
What is birth trauma?
Trauma can result from a range of events experienced during childbirth and postnatal care. They include:
- Poor or negligent treatment by staff
- Inadequate pain relief
- High levels of medical intervention
- Emergency deliveries
- Unplanned caesarean sections or other medical procedures
- Loss of dignity and control
- Stillbirth or birth of a damaged baby (a disability resulting from birth trauma).
Mothers can also experience trauma through feeling that their concerns were not listened to, acted upon, or taken seriously.
According to research from the BTA, up to 20,000 women a year have a traumatic birth experience. Many go on to suffer long-lasting impacts on both their physical and mental health. And it’s not just the mothers involved who suffer: partners can also experience post-traumatic stress disorder after witnessing a traumatic birth. Clearly, this can be a major problem for families, and one that currently doesn’t always receive the attention and resources it needs.
One of the reasons many mothers suffer in silence is that they feel they have no right to feel traumatised if they leave hospital with a healthy baby. Often, women who do come forward are misdiagnosed or find that their symptoms are not taken seriously. As a result, many mothers suffer long after the birth of their children – and they don’t receive the treatment they deserve.
This week is Birth Trauma Awareness Week
Patient groups, including the BTA, are concerned that the NHS is failing to make improvements in maternity services, and that cases of negligence or poor treatment are too often being swept under the carpet.
A report conducted at the beginning of the year by the National Childbirth Trust found that a chronic shortage of midwives across the UK left many women feeling unsafe and frightened during childbirth, and reported a marked increase in ‘red flag’ events. A red flag problem is defined as a warning sign that something may be wrong with midwifery staffing.
Birth Trauma Awareness Week aims to highlight the issue of traumatic birth and postnatal Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The BTA offers support to women who are suffering from the after-effects of a traumatic birth, and actively campaigns to change those practices that contribute to postnatal PTSD.
What to do if things went wrong
Many mothers report feeling that their poor experiences don’t matter, and they should put the memories of a difficult delivery behind them. However, that is easier said than done, and PTSD is now widely recognised as a very serious and often debilitating complaint that deserves proper investigation and appropriate treatment.
Birth trauma also includes a number of physical complications during childbirth. For mothers, one of the most common issues is tearing during delivery. Tears vary in severity, and if they’re not identified quickly and dealt with effectively, they can cause long-term problems. Due to the nature of this physical trauma, mothers can experience issues in their relationship, return to work and their everyday lifestyle.
As there is currently no routine follow-up of mothers who have suffered traumatic births, if you have suffered physiological and psychological reactions following childbirth, your first step should be to make an appointment with your GP. Current NHS guidelines recommend cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which can offer help with psychological problems in some cases.