How To Recover From Birth Trauma

There are no two identical birth experiences, but some births can be downright traumatic, leaving new moms scarred both physically and mentally.

By Katherine Webre3 min read
Shutterstock/Alena Ozerova

Fortunately, there are ways of healing a traumatic birth and speeding up the recovery process.

What Is Birth Trauma? 

A birth experience can be traumatic depending on how the mother perceives the experience. While some deliveries may look relatively smooth to third parties, they can be very traumatic to a new mother. 

Some deliveries are obviously traumatic when, beside the psychological scars, they also leave ugly physical scars or put the mother’s life at risk.

A birth experience can be traumatic depending on how the mother perceives the experience.

There are some risk factors for birth trauma that new moms and healthcare professionals need to take into account before delivery. To be considered traumatic, an event needs to tick several checkboxes including:

  • The event needs to pose a risk to the mother’s or child’s life or wellbeing. Usually, deliveries where anesthesia fails or there are grave complications that put the mother or baby at risk are more likely to result in birth trauma.

  • The event needs to happen unexpectedly. If the delivery was a medical emergency or the pregnancy developed complications that needed immediate medical intervention in such a short period of time that no one was able to reassure or support the mother, the birth experience can turn traumatic.

  • The event needs to be perceived as overwhelming. If the mother felt like she lost all control or was overwhelmed by the procedures and the many risks tied to the delivery, she can perceive the experience as traumatic. A premature birth can also be a source of birth trauma.

Women who already struggle with anxiety, depression, substance abuse, or previous trauma are more likely to be affected by birth trauma. 

Can a Traumatic Birth Experience Affect the Child? 

Even though traumatic birth experiences are subjective experiences that apparently affect only the mother, they can also have serious consequences for babies, too. A newborn will notice changes in their caregiver’s behavior and pick up on their emotions quickly. These emotions include sadness, feelings of being overwhelmed, or anxiety.

A mother’s fear or desperation that her baby is going to die during a traumatic birth experience, such as those accompanied by excessive blood loss, can be involuntarily imparted to her newborn baby, who may become anxious and carry that anxiety well into adulthood without even being aware of its origin.

Birth trauma may also disrupt the natural bonding process between the mother and her child.

Birth trauma may also indirectly affect a child’s development as it may disrupt the natural bonding process between the mother and her child. Since nearly all women who report a traumatic birth experience also report having a strong feeling of rejection toward their newborn children, the child’s self-esteem and ability to regulate their emotions can be greatly affected at a subconscious level.

A traumatic birth may also affect the baby if the procedure physically harmed the child. A careless medical professional can cause such severe birth injuries in a newborn that it can cause permanent disability such as cerebral palsy or blindness.

How Do You Recover from Birth Trauma? 

A mother having undergone a negative birth experience needs time and space to heal. Recovering from birth trauma on one’s own is not easy, especially if the mother experienced a sense of helplessness during delivery or had little to no care or support. Some of the best coping ways after a traumatic birth include:

Don't sweep the experience under the rug.

Your spouse, close family members, and friends might not understand why you’re feeling so bad and what birth trauma entails. But other mothers who have had a bad birth experience can provide tremendous support when you need to talk to someone about it.

Other mothers who have had a bad birth experience can provide tremendous support.

A sincere and understanding heart that knows firsthand what you’re going through is one of the first ways of validating your feelings and helping you on the road to recovery. If you don’t feel like talking about the experience, write it out. Keeping a journal can help heal the trauma.

Bond with your baby. 

Many mothers having a traumatic birth experience may feel disconnected from their babies, so it’s essential to repair the shattered bond. Breastfeeding, skin-on-skin contact, and infant massage can help strengthen and heal the mother-child relationship. If these activities may be too much for you, don’t push yourself. Take your time in getting to know your baby.

Tackle your stress. 

A distressed mother needs a calm environment to heal. If you feel stressed out for any reason, try to address the issue with your significant other. For instance, you might be stressed because your other children aren’t receiving enough attention or that there are important financial issues that you need to address, such as paying medical bills.

Ask for help when in need. 

Ask for help when in need. A close relative can lend you a helping hand with household chores, the children, or the groceries. Also, if your child was seriously injured during delivery due to medical error, which has led to hefty medical bills you now scramble to pay, speak to a birth injury attorney immediately (check out the link for more details.) An attorney can help you obtain the compensation you’re due to get the burden of financial woes off your shoulders and allow you to heal.

Forgive yourself. 

After a traumatic birth experience, you might be angry with yourself, resentful, or disappointed. After a less-than-ideal birth experience, many new moms feel like failures and blame themselves constantly for the negative event. Just drop your hurt ego and forgive yourself. Admit that you did your best and let it go. If you fail to forgive yourself, you will likely engage in reckless behaviors just to prove to yourself that you’re better than this.

Closing Thoughts

A traumatic birth experience can get your first postpartum months and your relationship with your new baby off to a rocky start. Remember that you’re not alone in this and that recovery is possible. You can thrive with your newborn!