Having a baby is a huge life transition and childbirth is a major physical and emotional event.
When we talk with women about their birth experiences, they describe them with a mixture of words; painful, powerful, long, amazing, awful and sometimes traumatic.
For many women, there is little opportunity to talk about these experiences of childbirth in the days, weeks and months that follow the birth as they take on the enormous task of caring for a newborn while also recovering physically.
Indeed, many women who use Women’s Health Tasmania’s counseling service during the postnatal period say they feel silenced if they want to talk with care providers, family or friends about a traumatic birth experience. They are often told ‘at least the baby arrived safely’ and expected to be ‘grateful’ that they and the baby are alive.
Trauma symptoms are common and serious
It has been estimated that 33% of women experience trauma symptoms following childbirth and about 3% meet the criteria for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
These trauma symptoms and the silencing of women’s experiences have ongoing impacts on the emotional and physical wellbeing of women and their families. It can affect bonding, strain relationships and contribute to feelings of isolation, guilt, or shame.
Listening to women
Listening to women is key to helping women recover from traumatic birth experiences and preventing trauma in birth.
Research has found that the way care providers interact with women during labour is often identified as traumatic with women feeling violated, not listened to and that the care provider prioritised their own agenda.
What needs to be done?
We need to improve awareness and understanding of birth trauma among healthcare professionals and promote compassionate care. It's crucial that routine training for obstetricians and midwives includes trauma-informed care, empathetic communication and shared decision-making.
We need to improve access to services, including continuity of midwifery care and birth doulas. This can help empower women and reduce the risk of birth trauma.
Recognise and Support Diverse Experiences
We need to acknowledge that birth trauma can affect people of all genders and backgrounds. Support services should be inclusive, culturally sensitive, and address systemic barriers to care.
Peer Support and Mental Health Services
We need to create spaces for individuals to share experiences, validate and connect with others who have experienced birth trauma to foster healing and resilience.
Birthtalk and the Australasian Birth Trauma Association provide useful support and information services focussed on birth trauma. There is also a group of Tasmanian women working on developing birth trauma peer support locally.
Advocacy and System Change
Its enormously important that we advocate for policy and system changes that promote person-centered maternity care.
Recently, women in Tasmania’s North West have been campaigning for improved of maternity services and that these be shifted to the public hospital system. This follows information about how many women in the region have experienced traumatic birth experiences associated with staff shortages and lack of continuity of care.
PANDA National Helpline 1300 726 306 (Mon-Sat 9am – 7:30pm)
Gidget Foundation Start Talking Telehealth service
See a General Practitioner to discuss a Medicare Mental Health Care Plan
Call us at Women’s Health Tasmania 1800 675 028 (Mon-Thurs 9:15 – 4pm)