9 ways to recover from a traumatic birth

Watch: Health minister apologises as birth trauma report finds 'shockingly poor quality' maternity care

Women have been sharing their experiences of birth trauma in a new inquiry, which is calling for a national plan to improve maternity care.

The report heard from 1,300 people who had experienced a traumatic birth and described their stories as “harrowing”.

“Women shared stories of being left in blood-stained sheets, or of ringing the bell for help but no-one coming," the authors wrote.

“We also heard from maternity professionals who reported a maternity system in which overwork and understaffing was endemic. Some referred to a culture of bullying.

“The picture to emerge was of a maternity system where poor care is all too frequently tolerated as normal, and women are treated as an inconvenience.”

It is estimated that 30,000 women a year, in the UK alone, have suffered negative experiences during the delivery of their babies. One in 20 go on to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The all-party inquiry, led by Conservative MP Theo Clarke and Labour MP Rosie Duffield, called for the creation of a maternity commissioner reporting to the prime minister.

Ms Clarke, who pushed for the inquiry after saying in Parliament that she felt she was going to die after giving birth in 2022, said there is an unacceptable “postcode lottery on maternity services”.

Woman suffering from birth trauma. (Getty Images)
A new inquiry into birth trauma is calling for an improvement in maternity services. (Getty Images)

Describing her own experience, she told BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “I remember pressing the emergency button after I’d come out of surgery and a lady came in and said she couldn’t help me, said it wasn’t her baby, wasn’t her problem and walked out and left me there – so we need to make sure there are safe levels of staffing.”

In the report, one mother, Helen, was described as still suffering from mental and physical pain - years after the birth of her son, Julian. He was born with a hypoxic brain injury as a result of proven medical negligence during his birth.

"My life will never be as it should be," she told the inquiry. "I never returned to work, I live a very secluded life, as friends and family shun you when you have a disabled child that they might not understand or are scared of."

NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard said: “The experiences outlined by women in this report are simply not good enough and not what the NHS wants or expects for patients.”

She said that NHS England was working with local health bodies so “their teams can create and nurture a culture where women are listened to, their choices respected and care is personalised, equitable and safe”.

Woman in hospital after giving birth. (Getty Images)
Stats estimate 30,000 women a year in the UK suffer negative experiences during the delivery of their babies. (Getty Images)

According to Mind birth trauma can occur when you go through a frightening, stressful or distressing event which is related to giving birth.

It can develop into postnatal post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is a type of anxiety disorder.

Witnessing traumatic events can also lead to symptoms of PTSD, so partners can experience it too.

The charity Healthier Together says the impact of birth trauma is often underestimated, as people may feel that the baby is adequate compensation for the trauma and that, as a new mother, you will soon forget it in the joy of motherhood.

"However, a traumatic childbirth and developing PTSD can impair your relationship with both your baby and your partner," the site warns.

"You may feel acute disappointment that childbirth was not the experience you were hoping for, and feel angry with the medical staff if you felt that the delivery wasn't handled well.

"If you develop PTSD, you're likely to also experience flashbacks or unwanted memories of the traumatic birth."

Woman in hospital after giving brith. (Getty Images)
Some traumatic birth experiences can lead to women suffering from PTSD. (Getty Images)

Recovering from birth trauma is a process that requires understanding, support, and sometimes professional help.

"It is important that everyone's view on what trauma is may be different, and that all feelings and experiences are valid," explains Emiliana Hall, founder of The Mindful Birth Group®.

With that in mind here are some steps mothers in the UK can take to recover if they have experienced birth trauma of any kind.

Acknowledge your feelings

Recognise and acknowledge your emotions about the birth experience. "You may be feeling a range of emotions that you never considered that you might feel after the birth, including sadness, anger, guilt, or anxiety," advises Hall.

Seek support

Talk to someone you trust about your feelings, whether it's your partner, a friend, a family member, or a healthcare professional.

"You can request a Birth Afterthoughts session from your hospital or if you would prefer to do this independently, you can book a private birth debrief with a specialist in-person or via Zoom," Hall explains.

Access mental health services

In the UK, there are various mental health services available through the NHS. "You can speak to your GP about accessing counselling or therapy to work through your feelings and experiences," Hall advises.

Consider trauma-specific therapy

Look for therapists who specialise in trauma, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR), or trauma-focused cognitive therapy. Hall says these therapies can help you process your trauma and develop coping strategies.

Woman chatting to a psychologist after experiencing a traumatic birth. (Getty Images)
Experts recommend seeking help if you've experienced a traumatic birth. (Getty Images)

Join support groups

Participating in support groups for mothers who have experienced birth trauma can provide a sense of validation, understanding, and solidarity.

"Organisations like the Birth Trauma Association (BTA) offer support groups and resources for individuals affected by birth trauma," Hall adds.

Practice self-care

Hall advises taking care of yourself physically and emotionally. "This may involve getting enough rest, eating well, engaging in activities you enjoy, and practising relaxation techniques such as mindfulness or yoga," she adds.

Educate yourself

Learn more about birth trauma and its impact. "Understanding the factors that contributed to your experience can help you make sense of your feelings and empower you to advocate for yourself in future pregnancies or births," Hall adds.

Communicate with healthcare providers

If you feel comfortable, communicate your experience with your healthcare providers. "Sharing your story can help raise awareness and may contribute to improvements in maternity care," Hall explains.

"The Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) offers confidential advice, support and information on health-related matters and is a good place to start a feedback process."

Be patient with yourself

Recovery from birth trauma takes time, and healing is not always linear. "Be patient and compassionate with yourself as you navigate your journey toward healing," Hall advises. "Remember that every individual's experience of birth trauma is unique, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to recovery.

"It's essential to find the support and resources that resonate with you and to prioritise your wellbeing as you work through your healing process."

Additional reporting PA.