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Birth Injury

What You Should Know About Psychological Birth Trauma

July 05, 2021

Psychological birth trauma is when a person giving birth experiences extreme distress that leaves her with long-term psychological and physical effects. Its far-reaching consequences are difficult to heal. Psychological birth trauma affects the birthing woman as well as her child, the father, and childbirth following the traumatic birth.

Effects on Mothers

When birth is traumatic, its impact on mothers can be profound. Women with birth trauma often feel fear, horror, or restlessness about their experience. They commonly suffer recurrent flashbacks, nightmares, and thoughts about the birth. When exposed to anything that reminds them of the birth, they may feel anxious, panicky, or distressed. They tend to avoid things that remind them of the traumatic experience, including talking about the delivery.

Psychological birth trauma can also have prolonged physical consequences. For instance, the depression that follows birth trauma can cause exhaustion and decreased functional capacity. Studies have also found psychological birth trauma to result in more visits to doctors due to the mothers having physical symptoms.

Fear of Childbirth

A traumatic birth makes some women choose not to have another child out of fear of the difficulties they experienced during delivery recurring. Several studies have shown that fear of childbirth can manifest as stress symptoms and affect the everyday lives of mothers, in addition to making them want to avoid pregnancy and childbirth. A strong fear of childbirth has been found to cause sleep deprivation and fatigue in some women.

Some mothers with high anxiety about childbirth choose to have a cesarean section if a subsequent pregnancy occurs. Others consider a long interval before having another baby.

Bond Between Mother and Child

Psychological birth trauma can put a strain on the bonding styles of mothers with their children. The mothers can develop avoidant/rejecting bonds or overprotective/anxious bonds. Some women have reported acting out their mothering role after a delay in the onset of attachment to their children.

Feeble attachment to the child makes some mothers reluctant to breastfeed. In the long run, children of mothers who have had negative childbirth experiences may end up with cognitive, behavioral, and emotional disorders.

One of the most significant studies on the effect of psychological birth trauma on the relationship between mothers and their children was conducted by The MASIC Foundation, which supports women who sustained severe injuries from childbirth. The study involved 325 women who had a traumatic birth because of experiencing perineal trauma. Some of the findings were:

  • 85% of women who were seriously injured said their relationship with their baby was damaged, with 14% of them believing the relationship was harmed permanently
  • 34% blamed their child for their injury
  • 31% felt their children would do better without them
  • For 29% of the women, their breastfeeding ability was affected, with 18% stopping sooner than they had planned

Relationship With Partners

The sexual and emotional relationships of most people experiencing birth trauma are affected. Some women develop cold and distant sexual behavior and are unable to have sex with their partners during the first year after childbirth. In some studies, both men and women have reported having intimacy issues stemming from a traumatic birth experience.

A report published in the AIMS (Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services) journal finds that for some people who experienced birth trauma, sex can cause flashbacks of the birth. Even if they are emotionally close to their partners, the prospect of another pregnancy and going through the delivery process again can hold them back from sexual intimacy.

Psychological Birth Trauma Prevalence

Different researchers from different countries have reported psychological birth trauma prevalence to range from 20% to 30%. However, many women who suffer from the consequences of birth trauma do not know what they are experiencing. Because many do not seek help for the trauma they are going through, the true figure of this maternal psychological harm remains unknown.

Can Psychological Birth Trauma Be Medical Malpractice?

Psychological birth trauma can result from an injury to a mother or her baby. When the injury causing the trauma resulted from a medical mistake, the mother and baby could be victims of medical malpractice.

For example, a newborn could sustain a birth injury such as a spinal cord injury or brain injury due to medical negligence. A mother could suffer an injury like perineal tearing, leading to long-term physical effects due to a physician failing to take the correct steps to prevent the tearing or failing to diagnose or treat natural tearing correctly. In these cases, the resulting trauma may have been caused by medical malpractice.

Birth injury attorneys can help mothers file claims for their psychological injuries and birth trauma. The mothers can recover financial compensation for economic damages, such as medical care expenses and future potential earning loss, and non-economic damages like pain and suffering, mental anguish, and loss of enjoyment of life.

About The Author

Photo of Jeffrey  Goldberg
Attorney Jeffrey M. Goldberg has spent his entire professional career handling cases involving birth injury, medical malpractice, product liability and related accidents.