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Because childbirth is thought of as a natural, or joyous, event many people do not realize how risky and potentially traumatic it can be. The reality is that childbirth can be an extremely traumatic, sometimes life-threatening experience, due to complications such as an emergency c-section, postpartum hemorrhage, NICU admissions, etc. In fact, research suggests that 45% of women experience their births as traumatic, with about 4% going on to develop PTSD


Symptoms of PTSD can include emotional distress, flashbacks, nightmares, physical reactivity, guilt, depression, numbness, irritability hopelessness, self-blame, and so on. 


So, what do you do when you find yourself traumatized by complications related to childbirth:


1.    Grieve the loss of the delivery you envisioned. Many women have an idealized version of what they want their delivery to look like. They are encouraged to develop a birth plan and hope things will go accordingly, even as things often do not go to plan. Allow yourself to grieve the loss of what you had hoped for as a way of starting to come to terms with what did while recognizing that much of the delivery process is out of your control.


2.    Acknowledge and allow for other emotions. In addition to feelings of loss, birth trauma can bring about other difficult emotions including anger directed at yourself or your providers, feelings of guilt or shame, and even feelings of detachment from your baby. Know that all of this is normal. Some women feel especially bad about feeling detached from their infant, but this is simply a way of trying to protect yourself emotionally; it is not a reflection of you as a mother, just like the events of the birth are not a reflection of you are a mother. Don’t invalidate, minimize, or otherwise dismiss how you feel. Don’t force a positive perspective. Hold the good with the bad. Trying to avoid or resist experiencing your emotions will only result in a prolonged healing process.


3.    Know that your delivery doesn’t define you or your relationship with your baby. Unfortunately, some women see their delivery as either a success or failure or feel as though their delivery sets the trajectory for their relationship with their newborn. Neither is true. Your delivery is not a test. Your relationship with your baby is not established in the delivery process or even in the hours after birth, but over the course of time, much like any other relationship.


4.    Process what happened. When it comes to trauma, it is important to process the events that occurred as a way of integrating your experience into a coherent narrative. You can share what occurred with receptive friends and family, others who have experienced birth trauma in a support group, and/or in individual therapy. You can even process what happened through writing your birth experience.


5.    Reach out for support. Especially if you are experiencing symptoms of PTSD or are struggling to find the support you need from family and friends, consider joining a support group such as the birth trauma support group offered by Postpartum Support International (PSI) and/or finding a therapist in your area through their online directory, both of which you can at


PSI has a helpline available at 1-800-944-4773 (4PPD).


The National Maternal Mental Health Hotline is available 24/7 at 1-833-852-6262.


If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide the Lifeline can be reached 24/7 via text or phone at 988. In the event of a mental health emergency call 911 or go to the nearest ER. Please note that this information is intended for informational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for psychological or medical care.


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