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On Birth Trauma

Perhaps you have been imagining your “perfect” birth experience for months. You have a playlist ready to go, a doula, and birth plan on hand. You are prepared, you’ve done your due diligence, you’ve read every book, and then things fall apart.

It is difficult to quantify exactly what percentage of women experience traumatic births. This is in part because the definition of traumatic birth varies significantly. Recent estimates taken from self-reports suggest that 25-35% of women consider their experience of giving birth to be traumatic. Generally, this is because of real or perceived danger to the mother or her baby during the process of delivery or postpartum.  Common sources of birth trauma include

  • Unplanned or emergency C-sections
  • Baby in NICU
  • Physical complications for mom during labor or delivery
  • Poor communication, lack or reassure, and a sense of powerless during labor and delivery

An estimated 9% of women develop Postpartum Post-Traumatic Stress disorder which is marked by symptoms including flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, nightmares, avoidance of certain stimuli, anxiety, and agitation. A larger percentage of women will develop persistent symptoms of anxiety and some post-traumatic symptoms. Women with a history of previous trauma are at much higher risk for developing Postpartum PTSD.

It’s important to note that a difficult or scary birth experience in and of itself does not mean that a woman will feel traumatized or develop PTSD. What is most important is the perception of safety and risk as well as one’s own psychological predisposition. For example, a woman who experienced a low risk vaginal birth who felt anxious and unsupported during birth could view her birth experience as traumatic and may go on to develop PTSD.  By contrast, a woman who experienced a medically complicated birth or an emergency C-section may not feel traumatized if she felt safe, reassured, communicated.

Stay tuned next week for some thoughts on common experiences of moms following a traumatic birth, ways to take care of yourself and prepare for a subsequent birth following birth trauma, and how friends, medical providers, and labor support teams can best support women.



Photo by iMike-e

On Birth Trauma


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APA Reference
, . (2017). On Birth Trauma. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 30, 2020, from


Last updated: 3 Aug 2017
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