Traumatic Birth – Fear and Recovery

Traumatic Birth Fear and Recovery

Birth trauma is increasingly gaining attention.  Once women only spoke in a veiled way about their experiences of birth.  Now, women are speaking more honestly and openly about their experiences. When birth has been frightening or difficult, women are also sharing their stories of pain and anxiety – but also recovery. 

Trauma and Postnatal Depression

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has long been overlooked as a mental health condition affecting women in the perinatal period.  Health professionals are often alert to the possibility of postnatal depression, but it is also important to consider and screen for trauma. 

This is not always as easy as it might seem, because there are high rates of overlap between PTSD and depression.  In fact, they often co-occur.  In plain language the research tells us that traumatic birth is a risk factor for postnatal depression.  This differentiation between depression and trauma is important because PTSD requires a different treatment protocol to depression.  Psychologists are obliged to make this assessment and treat appropriately. 

Trauma and Distress

Trauma and distress also require differentiation, they are not necessarily the same thing.  Distress typically settles over time with support from friends, family and others.  PTSD develops when an individual becomes stuck in their distress, which does not resolve. This can happen for a range of reasons.  When a woman is unable to process the distressing experience/s, she cannot move on.  The memories feel as though they remain ‘alive’ and can be easily triggered. It goes without saying that this complicates the transition to becoming a mother. 

Criterion A

PTSD may arise following negative or life-threatening events which occur during birth or its aftermath, including obstetric emergencies, pre-term birth, feeling unsupported during labour, maternal or infant injury.

More commonly, pregnancy and birth trigger pre-existing trauma.  It is not uncommon for women with a history of childhood sexual abuse and/or sexual assault or to present with an exacerbation of PTSD during pregnancy or because of a traumatic birth.  

Pregnancy can be destabilising for a woman with a trauma history, the baby inhabits in the intimate spaces of her body which are often the regions associated with the trauma.  She may also be subject to vaginal examinations during delivery, feel out of control during the birth, or have difficulty trusting the medical team assisting her.  The woman may also experience flashbacks or dissociate during birth. Things don’t tend to get much easier after birth, breast feeding may be challenging and the infant’s distress can be highly distressing for the mother.

You can read more in our Trauma in the Transition to Parenthood blog. 

A perinatal psychologist is trained in treatments for trauma and can help.  Perinatal psychologists can also support women in the transition to motherhood. 

Recovery is absolutely possible. 

At the Centre for Clinical Psychology we have trained over 750 mental health professionals in Cognitive Processing Therapy for PTSD.  We Know Trauma Therapy.

If you have had a frightening experience during birth, or you or your baby suffered birth injuries we understand.  We have seen many women following these experiences.  We can support you adjusting to motherhood and rebuilding your confidence in yourself and your body. 

To see one of our perinatal psychologists you can book online

Or call 03 9077 0122 or email