Bringing a new baby into the world is an amazing thing, but when a traumatic childbirth occurs, this can have a lasting impact. Discover more, here…

Mental Health After a New Baby: Tackling Life Post Traumatic Childbirth

It’s well documented that, after childbirth, women can suffer from mental health issues, especially if the birth itself was traumatic. They can suffer from postnatal depression (PND) – where the mother detaches emotionally from her new baby – struggle to breastfeed, revisit images of childbirth and delivery, and can even avoid giving birth in the future.

All of these symptoms fall under the umbrella of Post Natal PTSD, a condition that was rarely discussed until now. This condition usually results from issues with labour and birth, but can also be triggered by having a baby with a disability, such as one who has developed cerebral palsy from a birthinjury.

Due to relative ignorance around Post Natal PTSD, sufferers can find themselves isolated by other mothers who don’t understand why they are unable to put the trauma of childbirth pain behind them. This post aims to shine a light on the mental health issues derived from traumatic childbirth, and what you can do if you’re suffering after the birth of your new baby. So, for all this, you came to the right place…

What Constitutes a Traumatic Childbirth?

Traumatic childbirth can include any complications that make giving birth a difficult time for the mother, such as:• A lengthy labour: when the mother has been through a huge amount of labour pain for a sustained period of time, it can register as a traumatic incident.• Childbirth pain: this includes the regular pain of childbirth, which is so extreme it can be traumatic for the mother.• An assisted birth: with vacuum extraction (VE) or forceps, which are invasive and traumatic.• An emergency c-section: a surgical procedure to remove the baby from the womb.• Your new baby being born with a disability: this includes structural and metabolic birth defects, which can be very distressing for mothers to come to terms with.• Your baby spending time in the neonatal unit: being separated from a new baby immediately after giving birth can make the whole experience more traumatic, and can reduce the chances of early bonding.• A feeling of not being in control of the childbirth: the loss of control over giving birth can make the mother feel like she’s lost control in other aspects of her life.• Your baby was stillborn: a terrible situation that any mother would struggle to deal with.

These complications can be quite common in modern-day pregnancy and childbirth, with around a third of mothers experiencing a ‘traumatic delivery’. Considering there were 657,000 live births in England and Wales in 2018, there are likely many women who suffer from this condition who have chosen not to share their experiences.

The history of childbirth was one that focused on reducing the chance of death. That said, methods of childbirth have become more advanced over the years, which has almost completely eliminated instances of a mother or her child dying in childbirth and delivery.

However, these assisted birthing methods can sometimes make the delivery itself a distressing experience and leave women with PTSD symptoms. 

So, now that the risk of death is at an all-time low, the focus needs to be shifted to the mental issues of those who make it through these traumatic births. It’s time to take a look at these symptoms, to help you decide whether you’re suffering from a mental illness caused by traumatic childbirth.

What are the Symptoms of Post Natal PTSD?

It wasn’t until the 1990s that the American Psychiatry Association recognised postnatal PTSD as a mental illness, believing until that point that PTSD had to be “something outside the range of usual human experience”. They have since changed their definition to an event where a person is confronted with a serious physical threat or injury to themselves.

This can include those who witness a traumatic event, and some researchers have found that fathers can suffer from postnatal PTSD as a result of witnessing their partner’s traumatic childbirth.

Symptoms of trauma can happen soon after having a baby, and usually take four to six weeks to diagnose. These symptoms could also occur months or even years after the event, with cases of parent’s PTSD starting on the child’s first birthday. 

Approximately 9 percent of women experience postpartum PTSD following childbirth, and the symptoms are primarily mental health based. These symptoms include:• Re-experiencing a past traumatic event, including the childbirth itself;• Flashbacks and nightmares;• Avoidance of any stimuli related to the traumatic childbirth;• Anxiety and panic attacks;• Feeling detached from reality;• Not feeling connected to your baby;• Getting involved in destructive behaviours.

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms after giving birth to your new baby, there’s a good chance you have post-natal PTSD. To combat this, you should seek the help of a professional to give yourself the best chance of pulling through it.

However, it’s important to note that these reactions to childbirth trauma are very common, and can often pass after a short period of time. PTSD is only diagnosed in people where these feelings last for a long time and have a big impact on their lives. If you’re experiencing mild versions of any of these symptoms, make sure to wait and see if they ramp up before seeking help.

What Can I do if I’m Affected by Post Natal PTSDFollowing Childbirth?

There are several things you can do if you’re experiencingmental trauma after the birth of your new baby. If you want to avoid the help of professionals for now, and deal with the issue yourself, you could go through your labour notes to help you understand your childbirth better. You might have blocked out some of the more traumatic aspects of giving birth, so going through these notes with your partner or midwife will give you a clearer picture of what happened and can help you come to terms with it. 

If working through the experience this way seems too daunting, you could ask if your hospital has a ‘birth debriefing’ service. Many hospitals offer this service six weeks after childbirth and it gives you the opportunity to talk the event through with a professional.

If your hospital doesn’t offer this service and you’d prefer to speak to a counsellor, you should make an appointment with your GP, as they can refer you to one if you request it. This is especially recommended if your symptoms are severe, as the doctor can prescribe medication to numb the effects of the PTSD, making it easier for you to look after your new baby.

There are lots of private organisations and charities set up to help you with mental issues caused by traumatic childbirth. These include:• Mind: who have a whole set of coping tools and useful contact details of people you can speak to if you feel overwhelmed by your PTSD. • Bliss: who have a podcast featuring other parents talking openly about their mental health struggles.• Birth Trauma Association (BTA): are a UK charity dedicated solely to postnatal PTSD after childbirth.• NCT: An organisation dedicated to helping new mothersnetwork, share knowledge and harness their voice. They are less focused on birth trauma but have a lot of guidance on how to raise your child in spite of your PTSD.

Barring these suggestions, just opening up to a friend or family member about the experience could do you a world of good. Often women in these situations feel like the symptoms will pass on their own or that no-one will understand them. It’s important to realise that the people close to you are willing to listen, and talking through your feelings is often the most useful therapeutic task you can perform.

For Yourself and Your New Baby, Let’s Heal…

Throughout this post we’ve touched on what kinds of birth complications constitute a traumatic childbirth. We’ve also looked into the symptoms of postnatal PTSD, and what you should do if you believe you have postnatal depression after the birth of your new baby.

Hopefully, by putting all this information together, you can decide whether what you went through was a traumatic birth, whether that has created PTSD-like symptoms for you, and where you can go if you need help with the condition.

Remember, these symptoms don’t always present themselves immediately. If you experience any of them months, or even years, after having a baby you should follow the advice given in the third section of this blog to make sure you are taken care of. Feel free to leave you own stories, comments, and tips in the comments down below, and thanks for reading!

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