Creating a safe place for a new mother: Preparing for a trauma-informed birth and post-partum recovery

Birth and Trauma

Giving birth, whether it is your first, third, or beyond, can be a time of renewal, growth, and joy. Though it can also be a time of dread, angst, and fear when past trauma experiences creep up on you.

Depending on the care you receive from your selected health professionals, past trauma experiences can rear their ugly heads as there is a certain level of unpredictability when it comes to giving birth.
Even the idea of being naked in front of others can be enough to trigger an over-active defence mechanism to protect yourself and your unborn baby, which is often doing too good of a job in keeping you safe, it can be exhausting on top of the natural stress involved in giving birth.

While we can’t change the past, as much as we would love to sometimes, we can take steps to brace ourselves for the challenges coming up.

There is a lot of talk about birth plans, many people don’t see the point or need to use them, however, this is a really helpful tool if you have experienced huge trauma in your life. By creating a birth plan informing your health professionals of what you experienced (without going into too much detail), you can express what your needs are and why.

For instance, if being naked in an environment where you don’t feel in control of creates distress for you, then the health professionals can plan to limit the number of people in the room or make discerning decisions as to who is allowed in (particularly for hospital births). If you have chosen for a birthing doula to be with you, then a birth plan is a great way to advocate for your wishes without you needing to worry about enforcing them, as well as identify if the hospital requires anything from your doula to ensure they aren’t prevented from being by your side.

There may be family members who create a lot of stress for you, if they try to be present at the time of your labour, then you can use your birthing plan to request that they not be allowed in the room. Hospitals can use their authority to deny access very easily and they can avoid having you in the firing line of why they couldn’t be present.

You get to choose who is with you in the birthing room

Perhaps the birthing side of things is not an issue for you, though you may find post-birth to be the most challenging part, especially if you have experienced the loss of a child in whatever circumstances that might be. By informing the health professionals of your concerns and wishes (especially when it comes to your choice/need of feeding & sleeping methods), they can be aware through your notes of the circumstances surrounding those decisions.

Studies have also shown that Pitocin (the synthetic version of the hormone oxytocin) can trigger PND/A. This isn’t to say that it should be avoided at all costs, sometimes there is a very real need to use it, I have used it myself with my second child. Please do follow the advice of your health professional. Though be aware that this can increase your chances of developing these conditions means that through proactive planning you can take the edge off how intense they may feel. In fact, Post-natal depression and anxiety can begin soon after giving birth, right through to bub’s 1st birthday – which can be confusing, to say the least as generally, we expect it to be much sooner.

Having a pre-chosen counsellor to work with can allow you to work through the changes in your body and the responses to changing hormone levels and adapting to all the other changes that come in this season of life can really lessen the impact and severity of what could be experienced.

Bringing a new life into the world is not as straight-forward as we’d like it to be. It’s painful and amazing, wonderous and onerous, stressful and blissful and so much more in between. By getting the right support around you during this time of change is so important.

Seeking support from a counsellor or post-partum/birth doula specialised in trauma is a great way to lessen the impact of past stresses and to create a way forward that allows you to experience more joy when your little one arrives.

Do you have any tips to share from your own experience? Please share as you feel lead in the comments for the benefit of others preparing for their upcoming birth and beyond.

For more information and support services, visit PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia) or give their helpline a call on 1300 726 306.