Birth trauma is a poorly understood concept within both the healthcare community at large, as well as society. While increased medical interventions during birth may be experienced as trauma, births that appear uneventful from the provider’s perspective may be problematic for patients.
We must view these births through a trauma-informed lens, acknowledging the trauma that birthing people and their partners may have experienced before the delivery. Sexual trauma, physical assault, and prior experiences in healthcare environments may all contribute to increased risk of experiencing a birth as traumatic.
Recent research has shown that birth trauma and postpartum depression tend to correlate together. It’s not surprising that a frightening start to the parenting journey may contribute to feelings of depression or anxiety, which have a huge impact on not only parents, but newborns.
Thankfully, the most commonly used screening tool for postpartum depression also seems to be good at detecting when parents are suffering from post-traumatic stress. The Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale is a tool shown to be highly reliable and sensitive to postpartum mental illness, and is used at most appointments at Eucalyptus Health.
An important point for patients and providers to be aware of: Traumatic births may look unremarkable from the outside. The parents’ experience is completely individual, and shaped by prior experience. It is important to open the dialogue and talk to patients about experiences with healthcare providers and birth environments, because the treatment of depression/anxiety and trauma often vary.
Bingol, F. B., & Bal, M. D.. (2020.) The risk factors for postpartum posttraumatic stress disorder and depression. Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, 56(4): 851-7. https://www.doi.org/10.1111/ppc.12501