Couple in labour

How can you help your partner if they’ve had a traumatic or difficult birth experience? And how do you find support if you’re struggling? Read more here

If your partner suffered from a traumatic birth experience, 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 her. If this is the case, it’s important that you find the right support for you both.

What is birth trauma?

Birth trauma is experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after childbirth (Birth Trauma Association, 2018b). Women might experience birth trauma because of a physically difficult and/or painful birth (Birth Trauma Association, 2018b). It could also be because they feel they were not treated with respect or dignity during childbirth (Reed et al, 2017).

Can men experience birth trauma?

Yes, it is possible. Seeing someone you care about in distress or pain can be extremely upsetting (Birth Trauma Association, 2018a). Research is limited but it’s thought that 5% of partners develop trauma symptoms after being present during the birth (PTSD UK, 2018).

Seeing a traumatic birth can make partners feel out feel out of control, helpless and scared about what’s happening (PTSD UK, 2018). All of this can lead to them then having birth trauma.

What should I do if I think I’m suffering from PTSD after childbirth?

Realising that you might have PTSD after childbirth is not always straightforward. The changes and symptoms can happen gradually (PTSD UK, 2018). It’s also common for people to think that the signs of birth trauma are just down to being a new parent, for instance lack of sleep (PTSD UK, 2018). Read about the symptoms and signs in our article here.

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, 2018a). You can read about the treatment options that are available here.

What can I do if I think my partner is suffering from birth trauma?

If you think your partner might have postnatal PTSD, let them know you care and that you’re there for them (PTSD UK, 2018). 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 also help you if you’re struggling:

  • 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 her that things will get better.
  • Find out as much as you can about birth trauma so you can get the right professional support for you and your partner.
  • Gently encourage them to look after themselves by staying active, eating well and doing things they enjoy.
  • Try to avoid being judgmental or dismissive of her feelings.
  • 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.

(Birth Trauma Association, 2018a; PTSD UK, 2018)

There is now a lot more understanding about birth trauma. 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 November 2018.

Further information

Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700.

We also offer antenatal courses which are a great way to find out more about birth, labour and 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.

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.

The Birth Trauma Association. (2018a) Fathers/partners. Available here: https://birthtraumaassociation.org.uk/for-parents/fathers-partners-page [Accessed 8th July 2019]

The Birth Trauma Association. (2018b) What is birth trauma? Available here: https://birthtraumaassociation.org.uk/for-parents/what-is-birth-trauma [Accessed 8th July 2019]

PTSD UK. (2018) Postnatal PTSD in men. Available from: https://www.ptsduk.org/what-is-ptsd/who-is-affected-by-ptsd/post-natal-ptsd-in-men/  [Accessed 8th July 2019]

Reed R, Sharman R, Ingliss C. (2017) Women’s descriptions of childbirth trauma relating to care provider actions and interactions. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth. 17:21. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5223347/ [Accessed 22nd November 2018]

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