Understanding Birth Trauma: What You Need to Know

Understanding Birth Trauma: Causes, Effects, and Coping Strategies
Understanding Birth Trauma

Childbirth is often depicted as a joyous and celebratory occasion, but for some, it can be a traumatic experience with lasting effects. Birth trauma refers to physical or psychological injuries sustained by either the mother or the baby during the birthing process. While it’s not uncommon for childbirth to be challenging, birth trauma goes beyond the typical difficulties associated with labour and delivery. In this article, we delve into the causes, effects, and coping strategies related to birth trauma.

Causes of Birth Trauma: Several factors can contribute to birth trauma, including:

  • Prolonged Labour: When labour lasts longer than expected, it can increase the risk of complications such as foetal distress and maternal exhaustion, leading to trauma.
  • Medical Interventions: Interventions such as forceps delivery, vacuum extraction, and emergency caesarean sections can sometimes result in birth injuries to both the mother and the baby. In my opinion this is directly related to the competence of the operator. In training junior doctors, I would always emphasise the skill required and the potential for harm if not fully trained. In my day working 80 to 100 hours a week in a busy obstetric unit, we were all well trained. These days the hours of experience is greatly reduced and it shows.
  • Perinatal Complications: Conditions such as preeclampsia, placental abruption, and foetal distress can heighten the risk of birth trauma.
  • Previous Trauma: Individuals who have experienced trauma in the past may be more susceptible to experiencing birth trauma.

Effects of Birth Trauma:

The effects of birth trauma can be profound and long-lasting, impacting the physical, emotional, and psychological well-being of both mothers and babies.

  • Physical Injuries: Birth trauma can result in physical injuries such as perineal tears, pelvic floor damage, and brachial plexus injuries in the baby.
  • Emotional Distress: Mothers who experience birth trauma may develop conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, or depression. Babies born from traumatic births may exhibit signs of distress, have trouble breastfeeding, and experience challenges in forming secure attachments with their caregivers.
  • Impact on Parent-Child Bonding: Birth trauma can disrupt the bonding process between parents and their newborns, affecting the establishment of a secure attachment.

Coping Strategies for Birth Trauma:

Managing birth trauma requires an approach that addresses both the physical and emotional aspects of the experience. If you’ve experienced birth trauma, know that you’re not alone, and there are ways to cope and heal. Some coping strategies include:

  • Seek Support: It’s essential to communicate openly with your partner, family, and friends about your experiences and seek their understanding and support.
  • Educate Yourself: Understanding the factors that contributed to the birth trauma can help you make sense of the experience and empower you to make informed decisions in the future.
  • Practice Self-Care: Engage in activities that promote relaxation and well-being, such as exercise, meditation, or creative outlets. Taking care of your physical health is also important for recovery.
  • Communicate with Healthcare Providers: Seeking support from healthcare professionals, therapists specializing in trauma, and support groups for birth trauma survivors can provide valuable resources and validation for your feelings.

Resources and Support:

Several organizations and online communities offer support and resources for individuals experiencing birth trauma. Websites such as Postpartum Support International (PSI), the Birth Trauma Association, and PATTCh (Prevention and Treatment of Traumatic Childbirth) provide valuable information, helplines, and online forums where you can connect with others who have similar experiences. Additionally, seeking professional help from therapists trained in trauma-focused therapies such as EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) or cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) can aid in processing and healing from birth trauma.


Birth trauma is a complex and often overlooked issue that can have profound effects on mothers, babies, and families. By understanding its causes, effects, and coping strategies, we can work towards creating a more supportive and compassionate environment for individuals experiencing birth trauma. By fostering awareness and compassion, we can work towards creating a more supportive and inclusive environment for all families during the childbirth experience. It is important to emphasize that major birth trauma is fortunately a relatively rare occurrence.


  1. American Pregnancy Association. (n.d.). Birth Trauma: Definition and Overview. americanpregnancy.org/labor-and-birth/birth-trauma/
  2. Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. (2017). Birth After Previous Caesarean Birth (Green-top Guideline No. 45). rcog.org.uk/globalassets/documents/guidelines/gtg_45.pdf
  3. March of Dimes. (2020). Postpartum Depression. marchofdimes.org/complications/postpartum-depression.aspx
  4. American Psychological Association. (2020). Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). https://www.apa.org/topics/ptsd
  5. Birth Trauma Association. (n.d.). Understanding birth trauma. https://www.birthtraumaassociation.org.uk/
  6. Postpartum Support International. (n.d.). PSI helpline and online support. https://www.postpartum.net/
  7. PATTCh. (n.d.). Prevention and treatment of traumatic childbirth. https://pattch.org/
  8. Royal College of Psychiatrists. (2018). Postnatal depression and perinatal mental health. https://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/mental-health/problems-disorders/postnatal-depression-and-perinatal-mental-health



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