If You've Experienced Birth Trauma, Here Is Some Genuinely Helpful Advice

Nearly 30,000 people suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder after giving birth in the UK.
Happy mom and baby
MixMedia via Getty Images
Happy mom and baby

Giving birth is a life-changing experience. Whether you gave birth vaginally or through a c-section, it’s a major day in any parent’s life.

But it might not always go as planned or be the day you imagined. In fact, nearly 30,000 people suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder after giving birth in the UK.

Though it can seem PTSD is limited to the birthing parent, diagnosis of PTSD also includes birthing partners who have been present at the birth.

Geeta Nayar, a senior associate solicitor at Irwin Mitchell, sustained life-changing injuries and post-natal PTSD after the birth of her first child.

Recently she gave evidence at the National Birth Trauma Inquiry, sharing that she had sustained life-changing Obstetric Anal Sphincter Injuries (OASI) and Post-Natal PTSD following the traumatic birth of her first child, Maya, in 2008.

The impact on her health, career and family has been profound and she still suffers with after-effects on a daily basis — like Geeta, there are of course thousands of people who have unfortunately experienced the same.

What can be helpful when dealing with birth trauma?

1. Geeta says the first step is to try to acknowledge that you have been through a traumatic experience which has a psychological and often physical impact, and which is going to take time and support to recover from.

“I blamed myself for not being able to protect my daughter from her injuries and it took me months to realise the extent of my own birth trauma. Until that acknowledgement happens you cannot begin to heal,” she explained.

2. Another tip she says is to be kind to yourself and lower your expectations – experiencing a birth trauma can cause debilitating psychological symptoms; anger, flashbacks, reliving the experience in detail, guilt, shame which can all impact your sleep and day to day functioning.

She says: “If you are also suffering from physical injuries such as pain and incontinence this adds to the difficulties and may mean multiple bathroom trips or frequent showering. Managing this and a new baby can be extremely difficult so reach out for support from family and friends, you don’t need to battle this alone.”

3. Get help both medically and psychologically. If you have sustained physical injuries it is vital you talk about what symptoms you are experiencing such as bowel incontinence so you can get the correct referrals for treatment.

It is also vital that you get the right psychological support specifically for trauma, such as trauma-focussed CBT or EMDR (eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing) which can be accessed through your GP, specialists, or by self-referral.

Contacting birth injury charities such as Birth Trauma Association and The MASIC Foundation can also be incredibly helpful.

They can signpost you to treatment, advise about birth debriefs or birth reflections, legal advice as well as provide peer support.

Birth trauma can be isolating so being able to share in a safe space with other women who have experienced similar traumatic events can be so helpful.

If you want more information on PTSD post-birth, check out the NHS website.

Help and support:

  • Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393.
  • Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill).
  • CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably) offer a helpline open 5pm-midnight, 365 days a year, on 0800 58 58 58, and a webchat service.
  • The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email help@themix.org.uk
  • Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0808 801 0525 (Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on rethink.org.