Birth Trauma and Hypnotherapy
Let’s talk about Birth Trauma!
Birth trauma, or post-natal post-traumatic stress disorder (PN PTSD) is something that affects around 13% of women (and 5% of men) after childbirth. Due to the medicalised version of birth that has become normalised in Western society, interventions have become commonplace, and combined with impersonal treatment from professionals (resulting in a loss of control and not feeling acknowledged) often result in a traumatic experience. Birth Trauma is defined as distress, experienced in childbirth, and after, which can be physical, but more often emotional and psychological.
According to one survey conducted by Censuswide (2021) on behalf of the Birth trauma Association (BTA), only 39% of people were aware of Birth trauma, compared with 80% of people who were aware of Postpartum Depression. This is a worrying statistic. After childbirth, mothers are particularly emotional and potentially vulnerable, if suffering with PTSD symptoms and, quite often, guilt at the way they feel (especially if baby is healthy and happy!), and this is not addressed, this may develop or contribute to depression. All women should have their childbirths debriefed by a professional that can help them understand what happened to them and undergo an intervention to tackle the symptoms of PTSD if required, which will alleviate their symptoms and hopefully help them process their trauma, perhaps leading to a lower diagnosis of PPD.
It is understandable that unresolved Birth trauma can lean towards a PPD diagnosis because of many overlapping symptoms, such as feeling constantly alert or irritable, feeling low or unhappy, having trouble sleeping and nightmares along with intrusive thoughts about the safety of your baby. Sufferers will also experience anxiety, guilt and flashbacks, or you may have trouble recalling all the events during Labour.
PTSD sufferers have been unable to process their traumatic event, so when situations or thoughts arise in future that remind them of this, it will trigger the stress response unnecessarily. With PN PTSD, the triggers may be more frequent as you are still exposed to appointments, hospitals and, of course, the baby! Hypnotherapy aims to alleviate the symptoms of PTSD and change the body’s response through relaxation and desensitisation.
Although NICE and BTA do not endorse hypnotherapy for trauma experienced in childbirth, there is increasing evidence supporting its use for PTSD. Studies have shown that, “the effect of hypnosis is promising and might be considered not only a value-adding technique to classic treatments but also as a valuable treatment per se” (Rotaru & Rusu, 2015). Hypnotherapy combines useful techniques from many sources, in a similar way to multimodal therapy (MMT), with influences based in cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and Psychodynamic theory (Talk therapy). According to a meta-analysis (Van Etten & Taylor, 1998), psychological therapies were more effective than drug therapies and both more effective than controls in treating PTSD.
I find that many women suffer with birth trauma in silence. Not only is it detrimental to their own mental health and well-being, but it can affect their relationships with child and partner. It is also common to blame yourself after a traumatic childbirth and I hear the same thoughts from so many women,
“Why couldn’t I speak up for myself?”
“Maybe if I’d have done something differently, it wouldn’t have gone so wrong?”
“How can I go through pregnancy and birth again?”
You are not alone.
It is estimated that 30,000 women every year are suffering with the aftermath of a traumatic childbirth. We can change this by recognising the symptoms and seeking help from the right people. Birth debriefing is the first step, you need a full understanding. Do not accept that you should just be grateful that you and your baby are alive, this is not a helpful attitude and one that only amplifies self-blame and guilt. After the debrief, therapy is recommended to help you process the event and relieve the symptoms of trauma, and Hypnotherapy can really help with this.
Through a combination of mindfulness and desensitisation, along with progressive relaxation techniques, you will be able to find acceptance at the experience. This can be especially useful if you would like to have another baby. I speak to many women who are at the stage where they would love to be adding to their family, but they can’t get over the trauma from their first birth. In these situations, I recommend around two sessions for the trauma, followed up with one or two personalised hypnobirthing sessions to allow you to inoculate any fears.
Please, do not let your experience stop you from adding to your family!
Birth can be a celebration. The medical profession does an important and necessary job, but they do not always acknowledge the needs of mothers (and fathers!) before, during and after labour and are often keen to intervene. In fact, the UK alone faces bills of around £2.6bn a year due to negligence, and worryingly, 70% of these bills are directly related to obstetrics.
We need to be emotionally and psychologically prepared for our childbirths and possible outcomes, as well as receiving a better education into our child birthing abilities. We need to feel confident in our knowledge and decision making, as well as being encouraged to ask questions. Being better informed before we agree to procedures that may not always be necessary, will lead to more control and hopefully less trauma.
It is only with the correct treatment and education that things will start to change, which will ultimately lead to happier families.
Rotaru TȘ, Rusu A. A Meta-Analysis for the Efficacy of Hypnotherapy in Alleviating PTSD Symptoms. Int J Clin Exp Hypn. 2016;64(1):116-36. doi: 10.1080/00207144.2015.1099406. PMID: 26599995.
Van Etten, M. L., & Taylor, S. (1998). Comparative efficacy of treatments for posttraumatic stress disorder: A meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 5, 126–144. doi:10.1002/(ISSN)1099-0879