Post traumatic stress disorder

For most women, giving birth is a wonderful, empowering and joyous event, but for some women this can be a frightening and anxious experience. Fortunately, most women are able to overcome their traumatic experience with minimal impact, and within a short time-frame, however, for some women it can be more difficult to recover from the emotional impact this may have and this is referred to as birth trauma.

Birth trauma is a reaction in response to a real or perceived traumatic event during child birth. It can be experienced by both women and men and needs to be discussed and acknowledged by your health professionals, GPs, midwives, obstetricians, lactation consultants, womens health physiotherapists, maternal child health nurses, to name a few.

Birth trauma is about an individual’s experiences and there are no specific events that must happen during childbirth for the woman or man to be traumatised.

All women are different; however some common feelings experienced during birth are:

  • a loss of a sense of control
  • not feeling heard by health professionals or support people
  • feeling isolated and alone
  • feeling anxious and afraid
  • fearing for your baby and your own life.

Research suggests that many women, up to a third, describe their birth as traumatic, but quickly overcome this with good social and supports.
However, research suggests that up to 6% of women go on develop acute stress disorder or postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder (PPTSD) after child birth and these women may benefit from some additional professional mental health support.

Its very important we remember any person can be traumatized. Each of us has a threshold where we can cope with life’s difficulties without long term trauma symptoms. The more emotional and/or physical suffering people endure the more likely they are to surpass that threshold and develop symptoms consistent with trauma.

If you have a history of trauma, then you may be more vulnerable. Also, a history of mental ill-health can also be a risk factor. This does not however mean, you will be defiantly be traumatised by birth, it just makes you more vulnerable and helpful to know.

The content on this page has been kindly provided by Held – a program of The Australian Birth Trauma and PTSD Treatment Centre. 


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  • More information about symptoms, diagnosis and treatment is available from the Held website.

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