How does Birth Trauma Affect the Mother?
Mothers who experience traumatic births suffer various psychological, emotional, and physical injuries. For some, difficult labor, tears, perineal injury, cesarean birth, instrument-assisted births, and stillbirths can harm a mother’s body, mind, and heart. She may have long-lasting effects that need professional assistance to heal all aspects of her life, including her relationships with her child and others. The emotional toll on a traumatized mother can be life changing. It may take years or a lifetime to recover her health and well-being.
Despite advancements in medicine, the number of women affected by birth injuries is growing. A government study of birth registrations in England and Wales found that live birth rates have declined since before Covid, despite a 2021 increase. Regardless of the slight increase in the overall fertility rate, women’s fertility is still lower than pre-Covid years and nowhere near replacement levels, not since 1973. Researchers quantify fertility rates by the average number of children for women in their reproductive years. Replacement levels refer to the number it takes to replace population loss. Overall, live birth rates have been lower since before Covid, and stillbirth rates increased to 4.1 stillbirths per 1,000 women or 9.5%, higher than pre-Covid rates. Stillbirths include fetuses that fail to thrive after 24 weeks.
How can Traumatic Birth Influence the Mother and Child Bond?
One study by the MASIC Foundation, an organization that studies women who experienced traumatic childbirth, reports traumatic births impact maternal bonding and, for some, all relationships. The MASIC study of 325 women who suffered birth injuries found that 85% felt their experience affected their relationship with their children. Their trouble resulted from a complex mix of emotions, including blaming the child for their pain, guilt for being disconnected from their child, and feelings of shame, isolation, and inadequacy at their perceived “failing” at childbirth. Sadly, 31% felt their child would do better without them, 24% regretted having their child, and about a third saw their child as the source of their injuries. 14% said they had permanent damage to their relationship with their child.
How does Maternal Childbirth Trauma Affect Other Relationships?
And not just the relationship with her baby is impacted. The traumatic birth affects all the suffering mother’s relationships. Having sex with her spouse can produce an anxiety that she will get pregnant again and suffer the same fate, thus impeding intimacy. And disappointment with family members who they feel could have helped them more can result in animosity and strained relationships. Moreover, the traumatized mother may want to continue talking about the trauma while friends and family want her to move on or look at the bright side. That can lead to anger and suppressed feelings when a mother needs to talk to process and heal from the trauma. And well-intentioned consolation by others only makes matters worse. Telling a traumatized person that next time will be better or at least they have a healthy baby is not helpful. It may increase the mother’s feelings of isolation.
How do Birth Injuries Impact Mothers Emotionally?
The MASIC study also found that 78% of the women had traumatic after-effects of birth injury. Side effects include recurring post-traumatic stress symptoms from re-experiencing their trauma in memories. Over half felt shame for having symptoms, and just under half doubted their maternal capabilities. In addition, 45% suffered postpartum depression.
Like anyone who experiences high stress, extreme fear, or terrible pain, a mother’s birth injuries can lead to post-traumatic stress (PTS), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or postpartum depression (PPD). These conditions may leave new mothers with recurring nightmares of the traumatic birth when they feared losing their life. PTSD is the result of terrifying or distressing events. Those suffering from the disorders relive the trauma through flashbacks, nightmares, and cold sweats, like war veterans who suffered what was once called shell shock.
Even non-traumatic births are stressful when women fear the unknown outcome of a birth, lack of control over their bodies, pain, and possible death. Even a non-eventful birth can bring on PTS symptoms, with triggers from daily life arousing the fear or stress again. However, birth trauma is more likely to cause postpartum depression, which could harm the mother and baby. The mix of fear, guilt, shame, and sadness, all powerful emotions, causes grief, pain, and isolation. Often mothers feel disconnected and numb, which cycles back into a host of self-doubt and fear for the child in their care.
How Breastfeeding Problems after Traumatic Birth can Affect Mothers
One of the many other complications resulting from trauma include breastfeeding problems. Breastfeeding is typically a bonding experience between mother and baby; although high stress may interfere with a mother’s ability to produce milk, another source of anxiety and shame for a mother. Many women may feel that birthing and breastfeeding are natural to all mothers, so when they have difficulties due to their experience, they experience emotional pain, inadequacy, and isolation.
Mothers Suffering Physical and Psychological Injuries after Giving Birth
Focusing on a healthy baby rather than the labor is difficult for an injured mother, given birth trauma’s physical and emotional impact. The expectations around birth and planning how it goes may contribute to trauma. So, when a birth doesn’t go as planned, the psychological effects are long-lasting and devastating. And women who must care for other children and life duties in addition to a newborn may suffer feelings of being overwhelmed and depressed. They may feel emotionally drained or numb after a traumatic experience, which they must sweep aside to care for a newborn, yet another reason for the disconnect between mother and baby. In fact, this may harm the entirety of the new mom’s physical, emotional, and relational life.
How does a Baby’s Injuries Cause Psychological Effects for a New Mom?
If the baby suffered birth injuries also, caretaking can be even more difficult. A child with brain damage or cerebral palsy may need extra care at an already exhausting time. Finally, an injured mother may need treatment immediately after birth. She may not see her newborn immediately, which could interfere with immediate bonding. So many factors arising from birth trauma could leave deep emotional wounds and scars on a mother and her relationships. Releasing her from the hospital or birth center to care for her baby must not be an unthinking dismissal of her pain. Studies show that healthcare and birthing staff should monitor women with traumatic births to watch for the psychological and emotional effects in case they need interventions and support.
If you or your child suffered a birth injury, you should get the emotional, psychological, physical, and legal help you need. You may need all the support you can get. If medical negligence caused your traumatic birth or delayed your treatment, you should have financial support from the party or parties who caused your physical and emotional injuries. Our experienced birth trauma attorneys can explore the circumstances of your case, advise you on your legal options, and discuss how we can assist with getting compensation for your injuries. Contact an attorney on our team for a free consultation and find out at 866-708-8617.