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Ask the expert: How do I get over a traumatic birth?

Psychological trauma is an anxiety disorder, so the answer isn’t as simple as trying to ‘pull yourself together’

Q: I HAD my first baby six weeks ago. It was a traumatic birth and I just can't forget how awful it was. It's making me depressed, but shouldn't I have dealt with it by now?

A: Perinatal clinical psychologist and birth doula Mia Scotland, author of Birth Shock, says: “This is not uncommon – up to half of women say they had a traumatic birth. Some come away with actual symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, which might be the case for you.

“Birth trauma isn't always about how bad the birth was, it's about how you felt during it. If you felt frightened for you or your baby's life, you're more at risk of developing birth trauma, regardless of whether the birth was an emergency or not.

“Symptoms of psychological trauma include feeling upset every time you think about it, feeling as though it only just happened even if it was months ago, thinking about it all the time, even though you try not to, and feeling irritable, anxious or angry more than usual. You might try to brush it aside and move on, but this isn't easy, which can be really frustrating because all you want to do is move on and enjoy your baby.

“This can lead to depression, because your life is being affected and you feel stuck. You ask if you should have dealt with it by now – remember that you had an awful birth and then immediately had to get on with looking after a new baby!

“This can make it harder to get over it, because you don't have time to rest and recover and process the birth. Psychological trauma is an anxiety disorder, so the answer isn't as simple as trying to ‘pull yourself together'. It helps to give yourself space and time to process what happened. Maybe talk to someone in detail about what happened during the birth, or write down your story in detail. Some people put their feelings on paper in the form of drawings or scribblings.

“Take care of yourself, make sure you rest well, eat well, and create relaxation opportunities for yourself. Allow others to help. If things get worse, don't hesitate to see your GP or health visitor. There are very effective psychological treatments for trauma, which will help you be free of the emotional stress and move on with your life.”

:: Birth Shock: How to recover from birth trauma is published by Pinter & Martin, priced £12.99. Available now.

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