Between 25% and 34% of women have experienced birth trauma (also known as PTSD after childbirth). Birth trauma occurs when the mother feels her or her baby’s life is at risk during the birthing process — whether that’s due to pain, lengthy labor, medical intervention, poor treatment from medical staff, lack of control or dignity, stillbirth, or the baby sustaining a disability as a result of the birth. Symptoms can include nightmares, intense flashbacks, trouble sleeping and concentrating, panic attacks, irritability, anger, depression and amnesia. If you’ve had a difficult or traumatic birth experience, there are ways you can come to terms with and heal from your experience.

Process and learn

Processing your experience can help you come to terms with it and move on. For example, you may want to consider therapy, online or in-person support groups, or meeting with a support organization to talk through your feelings. Some women also find it valuable to journal their experiences: writing is therapeutic, and is known to help trauma recovery. It’s also important to understand what exactly happened during your birthing experience. That typically involves obtaining a copy of your medical records and meeting with your healthcare provider, if possible, to ask questions and learn about events during the birth. Although it’s natural to be angry, over time you’ll find your birth experience will stop consuming your thoughts. 

Bond with your baby

After a traumatic birth, mothers typically feel disconnected from their baby. It’s possible, however, to form a bond. In particular, skin-to-skin contact releases feel-good hormones like prolactin, oxytocin and endorphins, and enables intense feelings of love. If skin-to-skin touch is too overwhelming, start slowly, with both yourself and your baby lightly clothed. Infant massage and baby-wearing can also foster connection. Moreover, breastfeeding is sometimes challenging after a traumatic birth. Holding your baby (either clothed or skin-to-skin) can stimulate your baby’s feeding instincts and encourage them to latch onto your breast — even long after birth. Breastfeeding can be healing to both you and your baby.

Get support

Parenting is a learning curve, and it’s natural to often feel stressed and under pressure — particularly if your child has a disability. It’s therefore important to get help from friends and family so you have time to relax, de-stress, and bond with your baby. Additionally, if medical negligence played a role in your birth experience, it’s worth looking into legal help — especially if the action or inaction of medical staff caused your child to develop a disability. A cerebral palsy settlement, for example, can help cover the financial costs of cerebral palsy, which involves current and future medical expenses. In this case, a cerebral palsy lawyer can help establish all damages on your behalf so you can win the compensation you need to help care for your child.

Birth trauma is a common occurrence in the US. Although healing doesn’t happen overnight, taking positive steps to heal will help you connect with your baby and find peace.