For many new mothers, giving birth is one of the most exciting times in life. After all, you’re bringing a new tiny human into the world — one that you love more than pretty much everyone else. You can’t wait to meet the little guy or gal.
In the ideal world, giving birth would be a seamless, painless, uplifting experience. Everything would go according to your birth plan, and you’d meet your bundle of joy quickly, without any hiccups along the way.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen — quite the contrary. According to a recent study, as many as 45 percent of new mothers experience birth trauma.
What Is a Traumatic Birth Experience?
A traumatic birth experience occurs when a new mother experiences discomfort or distress during the process of giving birth. Since every woman is unique, each new mother may experience trauma differently.
Contrary to what the term might suggest, a traumatic birth experience doesn’t necessarily stem from a physical birthing complication (e.g., a uterine inversion or an emergency C-section).
In many cases, the trauma can be psychological (e.g., stressing out over giving birth in a hospital during COVID-19). After all, the birthing experience can be incredibly stressful and physically exhausting — even when everything goes to plan.
The Physical and Emotional Effects of a Traumatic Birth
After a traumatic birth, new mothers have to deal with physical and psychological pain.
All new mothers are physically exhausted after giving birth. Since most muscles strain during contractions, it’s perfectly normal to be sore throughout the body after giving birth. Of course, there’s also vaginal bleeding and vaginal soreness to deal with. On top of this, hormones fluctuate considerably, making new mothers perhaps more emotional than normal.
While every new mother is different, it generally takes between six and eight weeks for the body to recover after giving birth.
In addition to the physical trauma that new mothers have to deal with, many women also experience psychological issues after giving birth.
As many as one in seven new mothers develop postpartum depression after giving birth. When this happens, women can feel hopeless, sad, and isolated. These feelings often translate into a decreased appetite, loss of sex drive, and lack of appetite, among other negative outcomes. On top of this, women dealing with postpartum depression may also struggle to bond with their newborns.
While exceedingly rare, some new mothers develop a condition called postpartum psychosis, which can lead to dangerous thoughts and behaviors. If you or someone you know who’s recently given birth is dealing with hallucinations, paranoia, or delusions, seek medical help immediately.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Depending on how bad the birthing experience is, some mothers can develop PTSD. One study found that mothers who were less educated, had less prenatal healthcare, and gave birth prematurely were most likely to be diagnosed with PTSD. Additionally, research also suggests that new mothers who’ve suffered from depression and those who were victims of childhood sexual abuse and domestic violence are also more likely to develop PTSD.
In addition to affecting a new mother’s well-being, PTSD can also damage romantic relationships. Women who’ve had a traumatic birth report a lack of sex and arguments with their significant other over the birth itself, among other things.
Now that you have a better idea of what a traumatic birth is and what a new mother might experience in the aftermath of one, let’s turn our attention to the most important piece of the puzzle: what women can do to overcome these feelings and live their best lives.
Postpartum Healing: How to Overcome a Traumatic Birth Experience
From the outset, a traumatic birth experience can seem downright devastating. But there are some things you can do to overcome the trauma.
It may take time, to be sure. But as long as you’re dedicated to improving your headspace and becoming the mom you’ve always been destined to be, you will get through this challenge before you know it. Here are some ways to make that happen.
1. Think about your experience
While you might be tempted to block your trauma out of your mind, that pain will always exist below the surface unless you confront it head-on. And that starts with being upfront with yourself. Spend time thinking about what you’ve been through and try to understand exactly why you feel the way you do. Whenever you get a moment, you might want to try journaling to really clear your mind.
Once you’ve processed your thoughts, it’s time to share them with those closest to you — your partner, your family, and your friends. Don’t share anything more than you’re comfortable with. But the sooner you can connect with someone else about what you’re going through, the faster the weight will be off your shoulders.
2. Spend time with your new child
It’s not at all uncommon for new mothers to feel disconnected from their babies after a traumatic birth. While you might not be able to prevent those feelings from happening, you can proactively try to address the issue by making a point to spend more time with your newborn. Easing into skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding when you’re comfortable can help you get through this difficult time.
3. Talk with a professional about your traumatic birth
At the end of the day, you need to know that you don’t have to deal with this entire situation on your own. While talking with your friends, family, and partner about your emotions and what’s going through your mind can be helpful, you may be best off speaking to a neutral third party when the going gets really tough after giving birth.
After all, emotional healing when you have a tiny new human in your life can be hard — even if you aren’t experiencing postpartum depression. Speaking with a professional therapist who specializes in treating new mothers can make all the difference in the world.
If you’re struggling after a traumatic birth experience, reach out to a therapist today to get the help you need to adjust to this huge life change.
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