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19th Apr 2024

Up to 40% of women report finding childbirth traumatic

Anna Martin

birth trauma

It seems like every woman has heard some story about the miracle of childbirth

Hearing that first cry made all the pain disappear, the first time holding my newborn I knew being a mother was my life’s goal and so many other lines.

While these can be true and for a lot of mums, the sense of wonder, joy and overwhelming love can make the pain feel like a distant memory, a lot of women report childbirth being traumatic.

According to the Birth Trauma Association, a UK-based organisation, up to 30,000 women a year develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after birth, and as many as 40% find part of birth traumatic.

“Often, the main cause of trauma wasn’t what went wrong in the birth, but how women felt badly treated – their pain and suffering was minimised, they weren’t listened to and were sometimes even laughed at or shouted at,” says Kim Thomas from the Birth Trauma Association.

So the question is how can we improve things for expectant mothers before they go in to welcome their little ones to the world?

birth trauma
Credit: Canva

While bringing greater awareness to birth trauma will help more women get the help they need, reducing actual incidences of traumatic births will require change to be made at all levels of care.

Improving the quality of maternal care is essential as not being listened to or treated with compassion are direct contributors to birth trauma.

Addressing issues of underfunding, staff shortages, burnt-out of staff and poor accountability in health systems will also help improve maternal care.

When looking at maternity units in Ireland, one thing that will always come up in the conversation is the apparent chronic understaffing they suffer from.

In a report released in November of 2023 from the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation 88% of midwives in Irish hospitals said their units are understaffed a majority of the time.

Some 90% of those surveyed said their workload increased over the last year and only 31% said they are always or usually able to leave work on time at shift’s end.

Linked to all this, 72% said they had considered leaving midwifery in the past year. 

These issues don’t have a quick fix and neither does birth trauma but something has to be done.