New data from Gidget Foundation Australia reveals one in five (20%) mums with children under five have experienced both physical and psychological birth trauma.
Gidget Foundation Australia Clinical Director, Karen Edwards says birth trauma is an individual experience, and what may be traumatic for one parent, may not be for another.
“With more recognition of birth trauma and both its physical and psychological impacts, we need to ensure that adequate support is provided for new parents to discuss their birth experience,” says Ms Edwards.
This Birth Trauma Awareness Week (16-22 July), Gidget Foundation Australia is raising awareness about the rarely discussed issue to help parents access support and feel less alone in their experience.
“Birth trauma is still often misunderstood and can impact both parents. If left untreated, birth trauma can significantly impact mum, dad, and baby,” Ms Edwards says.
Birth trauma can affect parents in different ways and includes both physical injury, occurring during or after birth, as well as psychological trauma.
Symptoms of birth trauma in both birthing and non-birthing parents can include feelings of anger, shame, failure, pain, changes to feelings about further planned births, parent-infant relationship difficulties and increased risk of perinatal depression and anxiety.
“Traumatic events like an emergency caesarean or a baby being born prematurely can leave parents feeling like they have failed in some way. In reality, the situation will have been completely outside of their control leaving little opportunity to prepare physically, mentally or emotionally,” adds Ms Edwards.
Additionally, the significance of these experiences can be minimised or dismissed by medical professionals and misunderstood by family and friends – potentially adding to the distress.
“Physical injuries sustained during birth can also impact a couple’s sex life due to pain, fear of injury, loss of sensation or altered selfconfidence. These experiences place significant stress on new parents and the lack of information parents have on birth trauma can cause further distress,” says Ms Edwards.
Gidget Foundation Australia CEO, Arabella Gibson adds that birth related feelings can be hard to talk about due to some parents describing their birth as beautiful – when for many, this is not their experience.
“Every birth is unique, and adjusting to parenthood can be challenging enough, which is why it can be difficult for new parents to recognise and validate trauma within their experience. We encourage all new parents who are struggling with their birth experience either physically or psychologically to reach out and discuss this with a professional,” Ms Gibson says.
“Birth trauma is often described as a silent pain, but the good news is that support and understanding is available. No parent should ever feel as though they can’t speak up about their experience because their concerns might be dismissed or invalidated,” Ms Gibson continues.
“Even if your early parenting journey didn’t happen as you envisioned, it’s still possible to enjoy a healthy and happy relationship with your partner, your baby and your body,” adds Ms Gibson.
For Australians wanting to learn more about birth trauma or hear stories of those with lived experience, head to gidgetfoundation.org.au to listen to 1 in 5 mothers, 1 in 10 fathers, a new podcast created by the Foundation.
Symptoms of ongoing birth trauma
Some signs of ongoing birth trauma effects include:
- Feelings of panic or terror when reminded of the birth. Sometimes sensory reminders such as smells or sounds can trigger this reaction.
- Unwanted memories or flashbacks of the birth that appear suddenly and without warning.
- Strong feelings of anger about the birth.
- Replaying the events over and over.
- Feeling guilty that the birth turned out the way it did.
- Avoiding reminders, such as avoiding driving near the hospital where it happened.
- Feeling unemotional, numb or detached
- Relationship issues