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Birth trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder After Childbirth: 8 Tools to Manage Stress and Reach

I never knew I was suffering from birth trauma until I was a few months away from giving birth to my second child.

During the birth of my first child, I'd spent two hours in the final pushing stage of labor. I was tended to by a midwife who despite my requests for a natural birth, was keen to “get the job done.” The fetal heart rate was fine but she attempted to prepare me for an episiotomy – I told her where to go. She complained about the time

I was taking and the “mess” she had to clear up. Maybe the midwife was having a bad day; I doubt she should be a midwife at all.

When my labor was over, I was so delighted that I could finally hold my baby and so relieved that I no longer needed to push, that I thought I could just forget everything else that had happened in the delivery room.

However, two years on, as it become clear that the thought of reentering the delivery room was causing me stress, I realized I had to deal with my trauma.

I wrote down my birth story and made an appointment with the head midwife, at the hospital where I gave birth. I demanded that my experience be acknowledged and I demanded a written apology. With an apology in hand, and by booking myself into the hospital’s new natural birth center, which assured a completely different birth experience, I was ready to give birth again.

My trauma was mild; it had not interfered with my day to day life. However, many birth traumas can create a stronger and far more negative impact.

Today in our Awesome Tips for New Moms series, Dawn Gibson, a body-centered psychotherapist and owner of the wonderful counseling service for women, Mindful Mothering, has outlined eight tools to help you manage stress following a traumatic birth experience.

Woman With Flower by Nomi Melul Ohad

Birth trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) After Childbirth: 8 Tools to Help You Manage Stress and Reach a Place of Healing

Birth trauma or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after childbirth receives little recognition in the United States.

You might have experienced birth trauma by feeling violated or misunderstood by the medical staff present at your delivery, or by nearly losing your baby or your life during childbirth.

Your experience in birth is your own; it is an experience that you will carry with you.

If your birth experience was traumatic, it is unlikely that the trauma will be healed by time alone.

If birth trauma is left untreated, you might struggle to bond with your baby, find yourself unable to reach intimacy with your partner, and/or put off plans to continue growing your family – among other issues. If you become pregnant again before treating the trauma, you may unintentionally repeat the traumatic experience during your next child’s birth.

If you experienced trauma during childbirth, the trauma is stored in your body, not your mind. Your mind may try to push out the memories, and may be somewhat successful, but your body will remember until you obtain the proper assistance to heal.

Due to the lack of recognition of birth trauma or PTSD due to childbirth, women are sometimes misdiagnosed with postpartum depression or mental health issues. In these cases, women are often prescribed antidepressants, which may offer little to no relief for their trauma.

If you suffered a traumatic childbirth, here are eight ways to help you heal. Choose one or more from the list below and commit to helping yourself – you deserve it!

1. Seek out body-centered or somatic psychotherapy

This is highly effective in reaching trauma stored in the body and the sooner you seek counseling, the better the outcome will be for you and your family.

Please note: The degree of birth trauma experienced varies from woman to woman. Some people are able to continue functioning normally in their day-to-day lives, while others cannot.

Only you can determine if therapy is right for you. However, sometimes the postpartum period can be a blur, and many women don’t even realize they have been traumatized. If you are unsure, speak to someone close to you, who knows you well, and ask them if they think you should consider therapy based on their experiences of you.

2. Allow yourself to grieve

Even those who love and care for you may unwittingly attempt to minimize or diminish your traumatic birth experience. They may tell you that since you and your baby are healthy, it is time to move on, and there is no point in being sad.

However, only you can fully understand your own birth experience and if your trauma is making you sad, those feelings are 100% valid.

I encourage you to spend some time actually feeling your feelings, as painful as they may be.

3. Adopt this new mantra: I am a strong, capable, and loving mother!

Birth trauma is NOT your fault; it is something you experienced – something that literally shocked your system.

You might feel guilty or blame yourself. You might be stuck in the world of “if only” – if only I had chosen a different place to give birth …. If only I had exercised more …. If only I had tested for….

I want to acknowledge your feelings right here, right now and tell you that you are NOT any less of a woman or mother because of your birth experience. You ARE strong. This is NOT your fault. You should NOT be able to just “get over it” or “move on”. This IS a big deal and you deserve to be heard.

You ARE a strong, capable, and loving mother.

4. Take time to focus on conscious breathing

Breathing is important in calming your nervous system.

Try this exercise:

  1. Sit comfortably with both feet on the floor, in a quiet space where you will not be disturbed.

  2. Breathe in through your nose and allow your belly to rise. Breathe out through your mouth and allow your belly to fall.

  3. Repeat at least five times in a row. You can count to five on the in breath and again on the out breath.

  4. As you breathe, notice your breath and your body. Notice the sensations and your emotions. Allow them to flow without judgment, rather than trying to stop them. Just BE.

  5. Do this as often as needed.

5. Practice yoga

Yoga offers physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits. Not only will practicing yoga offer you much needed time for yourself, but it will also calm your nervous system as you practice postures combined with breathing techniques.

6. Meditate

If you don’t want to call it meditation, make up your own name for it.

Try spending one, two, or 20 minutes sitting in silence and focusing on your breath. This will be challenging for you if you are used to being busy all of the time. You don’t have to be perfect! Just do what you can and build up from there.

If sitting silently and breathing is not for you, try moving meditations. Feel the floor under your feet as you consciously walk to the other room. Focus on your breath as you wash the dishes. Find your own ways of meditating in ways that work for you.

7. Journal

Consider writing down your birth story, thoughts, feelings, or drawing images that spring to mind.

8. Talk to empathetic listeners

Find a group of moms who have had similar experiences. Share your stories and offer support to one another.

Speak to a non-judgmental and empathetic friend who will listen and love you through this. For many women, just receiving this support from other women makes a big difference in healing.

You may want support from your partner, but he or she does not appear to be supportive. There is a chance that they may feel helpless. If you know what you would like from them, tell them.

If not, try asking them to hold you silently as you cry or vent with them.

Take a look at the list of tools, choose the ones that resonate with you right now and leave the rest. You can start out with conscious breathing, if that is the only one that feels doable, and then add others as you begin to cope more effectively.

Remember: If you don’t feel like yourself, or you are struggling more than you would expect to struggle postpartum, then seek counseling. Find a licensed counselor who understands or specializes in birth trauma or PTSD. You deserve to feel empowered and to live a joyful life.

Dawn Gibson is a body-centered psychotherapist and the owner of Mindful Mothering in Austin, Texas. She provides telephone, skype, and in-office counseling to women during pregnancy, the postpartum period, and early motherhood. She is passionate about her work and has helped many women through their issues of anxiety, childbirth trauma, NICU trauma, and challenging childhood behaviors. She is married to her loving, supportive husband and has three incredible children, ages 7, 5, and 22 months.If you would like more helpful information from Dawn, sign up for her newsletter at, follow her on facebook, or twitter @DawnKGibsonLCSW

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