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Childbirth trauma and recovery

While many pregnant women and their partners know birthing their baby will be hard work, very few expect labour and childbirth could be complicated and/or dangerous.

Mum holding newborn

For most people, childbirth is a life-changing event which involves many emotions ranging from fear, pain, uncertainty and exhaustion through to excitement and joy.

However it is common for women and their partners who call PANDA’s Helpline, to tell us they had a complicated or even traumatic birthing experience.

We know that up to 1 in 3 mums experience the birth of their baby as traumatic.

This trauma can result from what happens during labour and childbirth, but also how a mum feels about her birthing experience.

You may have:

  • Experienced pain or physical stress while giving birth.
  • Experienced emotional distress while giving birth.
  • Your labour or childbirth may have required medical intervention (eg, any actions taken by your medical team if your baby’s health or your own is at risk).
  • You may have felt shocked and unprepared for these sensations, feelings and interventions.

Some women have ongoing physical complications from a traumatic birth. We also know that partners can feel traumatised following the birth of their baby and often feel overlooked or disregarded by medical and support teams.

Trauma is an individual experience and is not always connected to physical pain, medical interventions or injury.

Many people who experience a traumatic birth experience a range of emotions during the process, for example feeling:

  • Powerless
  • Confused
  • Hurt
  • Sad
  • Abandoned
  • Frightened
  • Disrespected
  • Unheard
  • Disregarded

Any of these feelings can be influenced or complicated by your personal history. Social factors -like the level of support you have around you - can have an impact too.

“Most of the medical and support staff we spoke to afterwards seemed to be focussed on the medical side of the birth rather than how we viewed the experience. This just made us feel worse, and that we just needed to accept it in silence and move on.”

Women and their partners who feel any of these emotions during the birth have a higher chance of experiencing:

  • Disappointment
  • Lack of confidence
  • ‘Hypervigilance’, or intense preoccupation with the baby’s health
  • Feelings of failure
  • Shame
  • Anger
  • Grief

Organisations like the Australian Birth Trauma Association and BirthTalk offer free resources to new parents, including evidence-based information on birth trauma recovery and healing.

Australian Birth Trauma Association

Helpful Information

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Coping with strong emotions as a new parent
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Complicated births
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Birth experience perceptions


Risk Factors


Expectations of the birthing experience


Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

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Everyone’s experience of pregnancy, birth and parenting is unique and brings different rewards and challenges. Our mental health checklist can help you to see if what you’re experiencing or observing in a loved one could be a reason to seek help.