How can you help your partner if they’ve experienced the birth as traumatic or difficult? And how do you find support if you’re struggling? Read more here
If your partner found the birth traumatic, life after it can be emotional and challenging (Birth Trauma Association, 2018a). It’s likely that you were also at the birth and the one other person who shared and witnessed the whole experience with them; though you may not feel the same way. In any event, it’s important that you find the right support for you both.
What is birth trauma?
Around three to four in 10 people find their experience of birth traumatic (Alcorn et al, 2010). That doesn’t mean they will all experience feelings of distress that have an impact on their life.
Following a traumatic birth, some parents will have ongoing trauma symptoms, which are often called post-traumatic stress symptoms (PTSS) and are sometimes known as birth trauma. The parent who gave birth or the parent(s) who witnessed the birth can have ongoing trauma symptoms (Bradley et al, 2008). For some, the range and severity of the post-traumatic stress symptoms they experience may mean that they are given a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Dikmen Yildez et al, 2016).
What should I do if I think I’m suffering from PTSD after childbirth?
As a partner, realising that you might have birth trauma is not always straightforward. The changes and symptoms can happen gradually (PTSD UK, no date) and sometimes birth partners don’t feel that their trauma is as valid because they didn’t physically go through the process of birth (Daniels et al, 2020).
It’s important to seek professional help from your GP or other health professional if you feel the birth experience has affected you (Birth Trauma Association, 2018b).
What can I do if I think my partner is suffering from birth trauma?
If you think your partner might have birth trauma or PTSD, let them know you care and that you’re there for them (PTSD UK, no date). If you feel able to, try to get them to open up and start talking about how they’re feeling and what’s happened. You could also try the following, which could help you too if you’re struggling with feelings of trauma:
- Acknowledge that what they are feeling is real, valid and distressing.
- Encourage your partner to get help from your GP or health visitor. They should be able to refer them to their local mental health team for diagnosis and to discuss treatment options.
- Be reassuring and remind them that help and support is available.
- Find out about birth trauma so you can get the right professional support for you and your partner.
- Gently encourage them to start carving out time to prioritise enjoyable activities. This can be difficult with the demands of a new baby and the symptoms associated with birth trauma, so you may need to start small in terms of the time away, their physical health and the activity undertaken.
- Avoid being judgmental or dismissive of their feelings. The last thing that someone with birth trauma wants to hear is ‘at least the baby is ok’ – it is important to highlight that their emotional wellbeing is just as important and is something you take seriously.
- If you’re worried about them expressing suicidal feelings, contact a GP or NHS 111. You can also contact the Samaritans on 116 123 for confidential, 24-hour support or 999 if they are in immediate danger.
(Beck, 2015; Birth Trauma Association, 2018b; PTSD UK, no date)
There is now a lot more understanding about birth trauma and PTSD related to childbirth. You’re not alone so don’t be afraid to open up and reach out for help if you need it.
This page was last reviewed in January 2022.
Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby: 0300 330 0700.
We also offer early days courses, which are a great way to share your experiences of life with a new baby.
Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.
The Birth Trauma Association (BTA) is charity that supports women who suffer birth trauma. The website has lots of information, parent case studies and support.
The charity Make Birth Better has information on its website about how to find help for birth trauma.
PTSD UK is a UK charity dedicated to raising awareness of post-traumatic stress disorders – no matter the trauma that caused it. You can read more about support and symptoms on their website.
Alcorn K, O'Donovan A, Patrick J, Creedy D, Devilly G. (2010) A prospective longitudinal study of the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from childbirth events. Psychol Med. 40(11):1849-1859. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0033291709992224
Beck CT. (2015) Middle range theory of traumatic childbirth: the ever-widening ripple effect. Glob Qual Nurs Res. 2:2333393615575313. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1177/2333393615575313
Bradley R, Slade P, Leviston A. (2008) Low rates of PTSD in men attending childbirth: a preliminary study. Br J Clin Psychol. 47(Pt3):295-302. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1348/014466508X279495
Daniels E, Arden-Close E, Mayers A. (2020) Be quiet and man up: a qualitative questionnaire study into fathers who witnessed their partner’s birth trauma. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth. 20(1):236. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1186/s12884-020-02902-2
Dikmen Yildiz P, Ayers S, Phillips L. (2016) The prevalence of posttraumatic stress disorder in pregnancy and after birth: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Affect Disord. 208:634-645. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2016.10.009
Birth Trauma Association. (2018a) What is birth trauma? Available at: https://birthtraumaassociation.org.uk/for-parents/what-is-birth-trauma [Accessed 26th January 2022]
Birth Trauma Association. (2018b) Fathers/partners. Available at: https://birthtraumaassociation.org.uk/for-parents/fathers-partners-page [Accessed 26th January 2022]
PTSD UK. (no date) Postnatal PTSD in birthing partners. Available at: https://www.ptsduk.org/what-is-ptsd/who-is-affected-by-ptsd/post-natal-ptsd-in-men/ [Accessed 26th January 2022]