Birth Trauma

Do I have Birth Trauma?

Birth Trauma occurs when the expectations and/or the expected outcomes for birth do not match the actual birth experience.  Nearly 18% of parents experience a trauma related birth and one third of parents meet the criteria for PTSD.  There are many scenarios that can lead to a traumatic birth experience.  According to the Birth Trauma Association common symptoms of birth trauma include:


  • An experience involving the threat of death or serious injury to an individual or another person close to them (e.g. their baby).  [Note that it’s the mother’s perception that is important, whether or not others agree.]
  • A response of intense fear, helplessness or horror to that experience.
  • The persistent re-experiencing of the event by way of recurrent intrusive memories, flashbacks and nightmares. The individual will usually feel distressed, anxious or panicky when exposed to things which remind them of the event.
  • Avoidance of anything that reminds them of the trauma. This can include talking about it, although sometimes women may go through a stage of talking of their traumatic experience a lot so that it obsesses them at times.
  • Bad memories and the need to avoid any reminders of the trauma, will often result in difficulties with sleeping and concentrating. Sufferers may also feel angry, irritable and be hyper vigilant (feel jumpy or on guard all the time).


Common developmental causes of birth trauma:Birth Trauma - Rachel Totten


  • Lengthy labor or short and very painful labor
  • Induction
  • Poor pain relief
  • Feelings of loss of control
  • High levels of medical intervention
  • Traumatic or emergency deliveries, e.g. emergency cesarean section
  • Impersonal treatment or problems with staff attitudes
  • Not being listened to
  • Lack of information or explanation
  • Lack of privacy and dignity
  • Fear for baby’s safety
  • Stillbirth
  • Birth of an injured baby (a disability resulting from birth trauma)
  • Baby’s stay in NICU
  • Poor postpartum care
  • Previous trauma (for example, sexual abuse, domestic violence, trauma with a previous birth)


Birth Trauma Treatment

EMDR offers an approach that helps parents retell the story of the birth experience.  Individual EMDR therapy can be provided to one parent to reduce intrusive thoughts, feelings of anxiety and sadness related to the the traumatic birth. EMDR ego state “parts work” can address feelings of not being a good enough parent and feeling of inadequacies in the early postpartum period.


Couples EMDR Counseling

Couples participate, together, in the same session with EMDR to process the birth trauma experience. Couples counseling utilizes GTEP EMDR protocol to process birth trauma and reduce the acuity of anxiety, sadness, guilt and shame connected to birth trauma. Addressing the birth trauma experience may help improve the barriers to attachment, partner connection and allow the parents to experience the postpartum period together with a new story related to their child’s birth.