PTSD following childbirth

Bonding with your baby starts from conception and part of the bonding experience is about attending antenatal appointments with your partner or support system. Preparing for and going through a planned labour and birth are all part and parcel of the expectations that you have prepared for to help the process of understanding what to expect, giving you a sense of choice and control.

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Pregnancy can for some, be one of the most vulnerable times in their lives. You are looking outward for others to support you during this process to give you a sense of comfort and reassurance. You have no option but to hand over a level of control to others. This can be a challenging thought for some.

 For a woman to be able to do this willingly she will be influenced by:

  • previous experiences of childbirth 
  • previous medical interventions 
  • other friends/ family experience
  • relationship with their partner
  • relationship with their caregivers
  • relationship with antenatal staff
  • financial security
  • accommodation
  • mental health

This list is not exhaustive…

During the pandemic, both women and their partners have had to cope and manage with the restrictions that have been placed within maternity care which have had a significant impact on women feeling unsupported having limited support during antenatal visits and their partners left feeling frustrated and powerless to support their loved one. We may feel a high level of disappointment at not having shared these moments with our partners which can add to the level of vulnerability. 

Having finally come to terms (both willingly and reluctantly) that you are placing the life of your baby in someone else’s hands what happens when something goes wrong?

Birth trauma is not just down to the birth itself. It can be when a woman experiences one event or a series of incidents during pregnancy, the birth, and after the birth itself.

Experiencing crises medical interventions happens so fast due to the immediate action needing to be taken to support the lives of both mother and child. 

During this process, your body may adopt the fight/flight/freeze/fawn response when you feel threatened and/or powerless. This can result in “critical incident amnesia” which means we can have no or fragmented memories of the birthing experience itself. We may find that we have vivid dreams or flashbacks that are associated with the experience that can be unsettling. 

Alongside this, a woman’s body adjusts, releasing new hormones to having just delivered a baby. Whilst all of this is going on for the women, it's often that this is “bracketed” whilst the focus of attention is supporting the survival of the baby’s life.

It is common for a woman to not recognise the significant impact of the event until much later when the immediate threat of fear for the baby’s life has passed.

The Birth Trauma Association states that PTSD may also result in the following consequences:

  • depression
  • alcohol or substance misuse illicit or prescribed
  • ability to bond with baby
  • sexual avoidance 
  • tokophobia (fear of childbirth) 
  • requests for otherwise unnecessary elective caesarean sections in subsequent pregnancies 
  • over-vigilance and anxiety about a child’s health
  • relationship breakdown
  • avoidance of future medical care, including a number of cases of failure to have investigation and treatment in women known to have abnormal cervical smears

If you feel that this article has resonated in some way, it may be useful to speak to your GP for additional support and professional guidance.

Accessing therapy from a trained therapist who can offer psychoeducation, support and help you work through your experience in order to process it fully may help to gain the clarity you require.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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St. Neots PE19 & Bedford MK40
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Written by Donna West, MBACP (Accred)ACTO (Snr) Psychotherapist/Clinical supervisor
St. Neots PE19 & Bedford MK40

I have worked with an array of clients whom have accessed counselling for varying reasons that they feel are inhibiting them from living an authentic life. My role within the therapeutic relationship is to work alongside an individual to facilitate self-exploration and consider alternative routes that may lay before them.

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