Birth Trauma | Your Question's Answered

Is Birth Trauma Real?

If you've experienced trauma in your pregnancy, birth or postnatally, apologies... as you might feel a sense of anger as to why this is even a question...and rightly so! Absolutely, birth trauma is very real.

Maybe you've noticed the subject of 'birth trauma' getting some airtime in the media and even Parliament recently, but the reason it's important to answer this question is that generally speaking - society as a whole still doesn't openly talk about trauma at or around birth, how and why it happens or how to support women. Trauma around childbearing is often normalised and even expected part of the process of having a baby.

So because of this, if you had a miscarriage or terminatio or stressful pregnancy with lots of scan, appointments and negative news or an induction or an emergency cesearean section or an extended stay on a postnatal ward - these types of experiences as so commonplace they are passed off as 'normal' - just part of the process. These types of experiences might be 'common', but they are not 'normal'.

What Qualifies As A Traumatic Birth?

Your experience is what matters; it's not about what your midwife, doctor or birth partner thinks or for that matter... what’s written in your notes. If you feel that what you went through was traumatic, then it was.

Trauma is an unhealed wound of the mind. It can't be 'seen' by others in the way as a physical wound. This makes it harder for others to understand. So for example, you may have had 'routine' stay on the postnatal ward, but if that stay was highly stressful and you felt isolated and scared - you may have trauma from that experience. This may not be consistent with the perceptions of the ward staff or what's written in your notes, but that doesn't make it less real for you.

There's a misconception that if you are back home and physically okay, then all is well and you can move on. But if you're feeling distressed or somehow stuck or unable to move forward — you might be dealing with trauma.


Perhaps your wondering if you should seek a formal diagnosis? It's a very natural response to want to validate your experience. It can seem easier to express to others what you've experienced and gain their acceptance and understanding. But let’s be honest, aftercare and follow up and treatment of trauma is the NHS maternity services is more or less non-existent right now. 

So where does that leave you? Of course, if your care was lacking then seeking answers from your service provider may be part of your healing. But my advice would be, avoid the trap of trying to 'prove' your trauma to others. Trust you instincts, you know what your experience. Diagnosis or not, your experience is all that matters. 

How Common Is Birth Trauma In The UK?

In the UK it's estimated by the Birth Trauma Association that 25,000 to 30,000 women experience birth trauma each year. The UK Government is in the process of gathering information for a report expected in April 2024, aimed at proposing policies to address this terrible outcome for women. 

These statistic's are really the tip of the iceberg. It more likely that 10,000’s more women experience trauma without a formal diagnosis. 

From my experience woman focused therapist and midwife, I believe we are at epidemic level – not only limited to childbirth, but also from termination, miscarriage, loss, difficult pregnancies and difficult early motherhood experiences. Sadly 1 or 2 women in 4, depending on where you read, describes some aspect of pregnancy, birth or early postnatal period as traumatic.

Is PTSD The Same As Birth Trauma?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is the umbrella term covering mental health struggles after any traumatic event, like accidents or disasters. In the sense that a traumatic birth can cause PTSD and PTSD symptoms, then  – yes, they can and are often use interchangeably.

Maybe to describe them both as the ‘same’ can be confusing. So for instance, not everyone with birth trauma develops full PTSD, but they may be experiencing the emotional problems or certain symptoms that are from the PTSD family - this is what's described as 'sub-threshold' PTSD.

In my experiencing, you're probably not too concerned with definitions and terms, you just want to feel released from the trigger, thoughts and emotions keeping you stuck.

Can Trauma Happen Only From Birth?

No. Although 'birth trauma' is the most well-known term in relation to trauma within reproduction and childbearing,  it's certainly not the case that trauma only happen's from giving birth.

Trauma can happen at any part of the reproductive or childbearing timeline. I regularly work with women who have trauma from infertility, IVF, termination, pregnancy, birth and the postnatal period. 

Maybe another myth to bust here is that trauma only occurs from one incident. Trauma can develop from one day or a specific event like birth - but it can also develop from longer episodes of time, such a high monitored pregnancy with many scans, appontments and negative news that resulted in a constant background drip of stress hormones over a period of months.

What Are The Symptoms of Trauma

Re-living the experience is something that women often describe as a major debilitating symptom. This can take the form of flashbacks where you relive the trauma again, intrusive thoughts, nightmares, emotional distress and panic when you're reminded of the experience (often described as triggers) or physical symptoms such as irritable bowel, nausea, pain or shaking. You might experience one or more of these symptoms.

You and those close to you may notice personailty changes. Women describe feeling on edge or on high alert, as though something terrible could happen at any moment. You may experience feeling easily irritable or have emotional outbursts. And because living with the aftershocks of trauma uses up some much of your brains energy, your ability to concentrate, motivate yourself and filter your emotions may be very low. Everyday tasks can feel like a major struggle. 

Your feelings are a significant indicator of trauma. You may have noticed yourself avoiding places, people or activites that remind you of that time or experience. Some women feel numb and completely cut off from their emotions, while others feel misunderstood as those close to them are ready to change the subject and move on. Trauma can really reduce your ability to feel and express love. This could be in relation to your partner, your existing children or your new baby. This can be very distressing and isolating, as women feel judged by themselves and society.