While many pregnant women know that labour will be hard work, very few mums-to-be expect their labour and childbirth to be complicated and/or dangerous. For some, their expectations of a calm, natural and fulfilling labour and childbirth can actually be central to their emerging sense of themselves as a good mother. If this type of imagined birth does not occur, new mums can feel like a failure, on top of the emotional and physical scars that remain from the birth.
Many women experiencing postnatal anxiety or depression who call PANDA tell us they had a difficult birthing experience. Perhaps there was pain other physical distress. Perhaps their labour or childbirth required intervention they weren’t prepared for. While some women can experience intervention (even extreme intervention) and come to terms with it fairly rapidly, for others it can trigger deep responses related to past experiences they may have had or distress them in other ways.
There are a number of risk factors related to labour and/or childbirth that can contribute to perinatal anxiety and depression. These include:
- Poor support from partner, family and/or health professionals during labour
- Previous stillbirth – we know that women with a history of stillbirth can be at higher risk of being anxious about the next pregnancy
- Previous sexual abuse – some aspects of labour or giving birth might be traumatic for survivors
- Natural tendency towards anxiety
- Perceptions of not being in control during labour and not knowing what's going on
- Inadequate pain relief.
A mother's fear for the well-being of her baby or herself following interventions or a life threatening situation can be very traumatic. These fears and anxieties can interrupt the mother's ability to be available to and bond with her baby. For this reason, offering a mother who has experienced some form of labour and/or childbirth intervention access to postnatal mental health support can be vital for her to come to terms with her childbirth experience.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
A difficult and traumatic childbirth experience can sometimes trigger the development of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). If this occurs a woman might experience intrusive dreams and flashbacks about the birth or through stress response to events that symbolise the trauma. Treating PTSD requires specific treatment so it is important to seek advice from a trusted health professional as soon as possible.