Birth Trauma Awareness Week

16 - 22 July 2023

Birth Trauma is defined as a wound, serious injury or damage which can be physical or psychological or a combination of both. Many women who experience Birth Trauma can have physical injuries such as perineal tears, pelvic floor muscle damage, pelvic organ prolapse, pelvic fractures and caesarean wounds.

Psychological trauma can occur with or without physical trauma and can present as postnatal depression and/or anxiety, postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder. There are many factors that can contribute to trauma including the journey through pregnancy, feeding challenges, infertility challenges, premature birth and pregnancy loss.

However the main contributing factor is the expectations of birth not lining up with reality where women expected their birth to go smoothly, can end up with unexpected complications. Miracle Babies Foundation believes that Kangaroo Care (skin to skin contact) can assist in reducing birth trauma for the mother herself but also provides benefits to the health of the baby.

Miracle Babies E Information Hub has been created in collaboration with parents and health professionals to provide families with EvidenceEducation and Empowerment. The Information Hub has articles on PTSD, PNA and PND, as well as a range of others.

Postnatal Anxiety

  • Intrusive or persistent thoughts
  • Excessive worry
  • Insomnia
  • Avoidant behaviours
  • Tension
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Fatigue
  • Shakiness or trembling
  • Panic attacks
  • May find themselves checking on the baby continually (even when asleep) for fear that they will stop breathing
  • Have visions of something terrible happening to the baby that would harm them

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder Signs/Symptoms:

  • Re-experiencing the trauma
  • Repetitive memories (or flashbacks) that are hard to control and intrude into everyday life
  • Nightmares
  • Extreme distress caused by reminders of the trauma
  • Memories or disturbing thoughts that can be prompted by smells, sounds, words or other triggers
  • Staying away from places, people or objects that may trigger memories of the traumatic event
  • Changing a normal routine to avoid triggering memories
  • Not wanting to talk about or think about the event

Postnatal Depression Signs/Symptoms:

  • Feeling of sadness and anxiety
  • Sleeping a lot or too less
  • Eating too less or too much
  • Unexplained aches, pain or illness
  • Anxiety, irritation or anger for no reason
  • Sudden mood changes
  • Poor concentration
  • Difficulty in remembering things
  • Feelings of worthlessness, guilt and hopelessness
  • Recurrent thoughts of death and suicide
  • Lack of pleasure in things that were earlier enjoyable
  • Feeling disconnected with the baby

It is important to remember that every person is different; A person who goes through traumatic experience may not suffer any post trauma compared to a mother who has experienced a traumatic birth and will suffer PTSD for the rest of her life. It is also possible that a seemingly good birth can be traumatic for the mother or parent experiencing it; they can be traumatised by very fast labours, prolonged, painful labours, or emergency interventions like instrumental deliveries or caesareans.

Men can also suffer from Birth Trauma (mainly psychological trauma) associated with women birthing their child. This is why it is very important for both women and men to be aware of Birth Trauma so they can receive or support the care needed.

We sat down with Brisbane mum Lauren Tench to discuss what it was like to experience birth trauma, signs of postnatal depression and how she is doing now, here is her story:

"My journey to getting pregnant with Arlo was not an easy one due to severe endometriosis. The first time I ever fell pregnant unfortunately it turned out to be an ectopic pregnancy which resulted in emergency surgery thankfully both my tubes were able to be saved.

It then took 2 years and 2 surgeries for endometriosis in between to fall pregnant with Arlo, thankfully my pregnancy was ok. The first few weeks until we saw Arlo was in the correct spot were extremely nerve wracking but the support from my obstetrician-Gynaecologist helped.

Up until 29 weeks I was coping a lot better than I thought I would, but one Sunday I felt an extreme tightening and pain which scared me so I went and got checked and sent for a ultrasound which had showed my cervix had shortened and I am at risk for going into preterm labour at any moment which was absolutely terrifying for me. I was admitted to the hospital for a few days and given steroid shots which I think really helped little Arlo’s lungs.

For the remainder of my pregnancy, I was put on progesterone to help my cervix not shorten anymore but I was extremely anxious constantly about going into preterm labour so early on.

Thankfully I made it to 35 weeks, but that’s when I got told I have preeclampsia which was a huge shock for me. I was sent for bloods and then my OBGYN called me and said to pack my bags and head to the hospital. I had a whole range of emotions but just wanted to get to the hospital. I was monitored Friday night then had more blood tests done on Saturday morning which showed my liver and kidneys were shutting down very quickly. I was really sick but the on call OBGYN basically told me if it gets worse, I have to have an emergency c section that day, but I kept getting monitored showing my blood pressure was progressively getting higher. Sunday came and the decision was made that I need to deliver Arlo due to the severity of my preeclampsia, I was riddled with shock and fear. Thankfully my OBGYN came in on that Sunday and was there to deliver Arlo with the on call OBGYN who really made me feel at ease.

Arlo was delivered via emergency c section and I was under general anaesthetic, so I never got to see or meet Arlo for over 24 hours. Unfortunately, he was unable to breath on his own, so he was taken straight up to the special care nursery and then rushed to another hospital to be in the NICU. I was then taken into ICU and was advised about what had happened. I was in shock my lungs had collapsed and I had trouble breathing but all I could think about was not meeting my baby or being there with him it felt like an out of body experience.

Thankfully Arlo was able to be transferred back to the hospital that I was at, and I was able to be taken from ICU to the maternity unit and Arlo was in the special care nursery. I remember my husband wheeling me to meet Arlo who was so tiny in the incubator, and it felt so surreal I was finally able to meet my boy Arlo who spent 11 nights in total in the SCN. I was discharged before Arlo was which was the hardest thing to face every time, we would have to leave at night my heart broke into a million pieces.

Before Arlo’s birth I didn’t know what to expect or know much about premature babies. Arlo had to be on a feeding tube because he was born so early, he was struggling to take bottles and keep his energy up to finish one, it was so hard to watch this little baby struggle. I felt like it was my fault and wished I could fix Arlo, but I just wanted him home.

Having a baby in the SCN is so challenging. My biggest tip or advice would be is make sure you tell someone how you’re feeling the emotions and feelings are very hard to deal with especially as a new mum and being faced seeing your newborn with so many tubes and things on their tiny bodies.

Dealing with birth trauma is extremely difficult and it’s still something I manage daily especially now I am pregnant with bub 2 I feel even more anxious and scared that this birth could be as traumatic. My heart goes out to anyone dealing with birth trauma and I just want you to know you are not alone".

We thank Lauren for sharing her story with us wish her all the best with her pregnancy and birth in the coming months.

Miracle Babies Foundation supports all families going through all traumatic birth experiences by accessing our NurtureLine on 1300 622 243 (1300 MBABIES).