Hypnotherapy for birth trauma

Hypnobirthing Caesarean Homebirth

The birth of a baby is one of life’s most significant events. There is an expectation that the bringing a baby into the world is one of the happiest moments in a person’s life. Many assuming that birth must have been positive when the result is a healthy mum and baby.

However, happy, joyful memories are not how everyone interprets their birth experience. There is increasing understanding of the potential for the circumstances around the birth and the early postnatal period to have a lasting negative impact. Any of the individual factors during birth have the potential for the experience to be perceived as negative. Yet not all negative experiences would lead to a definition of birth trauma. Psychological trauma is defined by the presence of ongoing emotional distress, signs of impaired mental health and psychological wellbeing.

Sometimes people can dismiss their thoughts and feeling because everything about the birth seemed to be straightforward. However, it’s much more complex than whether the birth appeared to be calm and quiet, or if there were medical interventions or emergency situations. Birth trauma is determined by the subjective interpretation of a traumatic experience. Meaning that an outside observer cannot decide if something was or wasn’t traumatic, only the person who had the experience can determine that.

There are some common factors that can be a catalyst for birth related psychological trauma:

  • Expectations of labour and birth not being met
  • Intense feelings of fear or extreme stress
  • Feeling unsupported or uninformed by caregivers
  • Experiencing physical suffering/ extreme pain
  • Feeling a lack of control
  • Feeling their decisions/wishes were not listened to or acted on, or consent wasn’t given

Can partners experience birth trauma?

Having a traumatic experience is not exclusive to the birthing person. Birth trauma may also independently be experienced by others regardless of the personal perception of the birthing person. Anyone present may be negatively impacted, such as the baby’s other parent, or family member, and even other birth attendants. And it’s likely to be much more common than any statistics currently available. Typically, people witnessing a birth, may have additional feelings of having no right ‘to complain’ because they were just watching. Descriptions of trauma for witnesses are likely to involve feelings of helplessness at seeing their loved one suffer, and lack of control, either through not knowing how to help, or not being able help, the birthing person or the baby.

Can there be a delay in a response to birth trauma?

Having a baby is a huge life transition, time is often dominated by understanding and meeting your baby’s needs and getting enough rest and sleep. Those demands may leave little time for processing what happened. Sometimes unresolved birth trauma might not be immediately obvious. It can become apparent for the first time weeks, months or even years later. It might be triggered by someone else describing their birth experience, or perhaps be prompted by a subsequent pregnancy. Alternatively, there might be no obvious catalyst. You may have felt that something was not quite right for a long time, or it may appear to have surfaced out of the blue. It’s easy to see how this can lead to confusion about what is happening and may in turn delay a person seeking support or help, to process what’s happened.

How to recognise symptoms of birth trauma?

Recognising birth trauma can be more obvious if you are having recurring negative emotions, thoughts and feelings when remembering or talking about the circumstances around the birth.

These might include:

  • Becoming upset and/or crying
  • Feeling that expectations weren’t met
  • Feeling guilty for what happened
  • Feeling guilty for your feelings or responses
  • Feeling grief for the birth that was not had
  • Feeling angry
  • Feeling ashamed for something you did or said
  • Having flashbacks or memories of specific events or scenes either when awake or in the form of nightmares
  • Mentally rehearsing how you could have said or done something different
  • Having a physical stress/fear response to the memories, feeling scared or anxious/racing heart rate etc
  • Intentionally avoiding the place where you gave birth and/or having a sense of unease/anxiety/fear when near

Symptoms may also manifest more generally, and might not appear connected to birth such as:

  • Increased anxiety
  • Breastfeeding issues
  • Hypervigilance for baby or other family members health
  • Compulsive cleaning
  • A sense of lack of bonding with the baby
  • Insomnia
  • Persistent sadness
  • A sense of numbness or detachment to the people around you
  • Relationship issues

The incidence of people reporting psychological birth trauma is approximately 1 in 3 of all births, and so the real incidence is believed to be much higher, because there will be many not reported, or remain undiagnosed as birth trauma. With this in mind it is important to raise awareness for the need to prevent birth trauma in the first place and particularly to ensure appropriate support is provided to facilitate healing form birth trauma. Left untreated the emotional scars can potentially continue to ripple through many aspects of life.

How can you heal from psychological birth trauma?

People sometimes make the mistake of believing that you can’t change what’s happened. Hypnotherapy doesn’t change the past, but it can change how you feel about what happened.

At You Hypnotherapy the emotional component of a traumatic birth can be powerfully resolved through the combination of, birth debriefing, psychotherapy, and hypnosis.

Birth debriefing

Through a gentle and informed process you will be expertly guided to talk about your experience with an experienced midwife. This can help to piece together aspects of the birth that may not have been explained or understood. Talking with a birth professional can help close the gaps in knowledge that often lead to thoughts looping with no end. It may be your first opportunity to be completely open and honest about what the experience was like for you without judgement or censorship, without your thoughts and feelings being diminished or dismissed.

Strategic psychotherapy for birth trauma

Through answering pertinent questions you can have a greater understanding of how you are thinking about what happened. Through that understanding, the therapist can tailor the therapy to address what specifically is the problem for you. Many people don’t know how to separate or label their thoughts and feelings, just knowing you feel sad or bad, doesn’t enable a pathway to feeling differently. Helping someone to navigate feelings of guilt and responsibility will differ from ways to resolve grief and loss for instance. A skilled hypnotherapist will work to create a safe, respectful, and empathetic environment, ensuring that you feel supported throughout your healing.

The role of hypnotherapy in healing birth trauma

It is possible to heal from birth trauma, hypnotherapy is one of the most effective and fast treatment approaches to transform how you think and feel about traumatic events. Hypnotherapy is a therapeutic technique that uses hypnosis, (an altered state of consciousness characterised by increased focus and concentration), to facilitate healing. It stands apart from other talking therapies because even though you might have an awareness that the negative thinking is not useful, and you might be aware of techniques and exercises that could be useful, it sometimes seems impossible to begin a different way of doing things.

When intently focused whilst in a relaxed state (in hypnosis) your subconscious can make new associations and come up with solutions, much like what happens following a night’s sleep. It’s almost like our brains are updating their operating system in the light of new information and new knowledge, a form of rewiring. Making new connections between our existing resources and breaking connections between past events and the present day. The overall intention of hypnotherapy for resolving birth trauma is to effectively separate the memories from the emotions. There is no suggestion of wiping your memory of all events, you’ll still remember the birth, you’ll still have an understanding that it perhaps wasn’t a completely positive experience. However, importantly, when you do recall the event, you will be dissociated from feeling those intense negative emotions. Meaning in the present moment you can peacefully recall what happened without emotional distress. You will be guided to be connected to your reality of being safe in the present day, putting distance between the traumatic past and the present.

How does hypnotherapy help to resolve birth trauma?

Facilitating Relaxation: Hypnosis induces a deeply relaxed state, which can counteract the stress and hyperarousal associated with trauma. It’s a calmer way of experiencing yourself, possibly for the first time since becoming a parent. The relaxing effect is not purely beneficial in the moment, it can be repeated ongoing. Just having the experience of thinking about the trauma whilst your body is deeply calm can be the catalyst for a new understanding, it helps to update your subconscious to know you are not currently in danger- the event is in the past.

Changing the physical response: Emotions are not just felt in the mind, they are a whole body experience. It can be obvious when you consider phrases like; ‘it feels really heavy’, ‘the weight of the world is on my shoulders’ or ‘it’s gut wrenching’, ‘I feel sick to my stomach’. That mind-body connection can be radically altered using hypnosis and when the body doesn’t feel the same, the mind will be less likely to fall into the same old pattern of thinking. This altering of sensation can profoundly disrupt your understanding of how you now think and feel about the traumatic event.

Reframing Negative Memories: Often the content of a persons problems are played out in their mind on repeat, with only one way of thinking about it. Having another perspective can begin to reframe your interpretation of events, can give you a different lens to view what happened. Through guided imagery and suggestions, hypnotherapy helps people consider the memories differently, in a safe and controlled environment. Transforming memories from something traumatic into a more neutral or even positive memory.

Building Coping Skills: Hypnotherapy can enhance an individual's coping mechanisms. During sessions, individuals can learn to connect with existing internal resources (engage a different part of your mind) to effectively manage triggers and anxiety symptoms in the future. You’ll also learn techniques that promote inner calm during stressful situations, and ways of recognising when you have a choice to respond rather than passively react in the future.

Enhancing Self-Confidence: A key aspect of recovery from trauma is regaining a sense of control. During hypnotherapy individuals are guided to be aware of in their ability to handle their emotions and reactions. You’ll be shown how to direct your thoughts to something with a more positive outcome giving you a sense of personal agency and power.

What if your psychologist or counsellor doesn’t use hypnotherapy for birth trauma?

Because life is made up of a multitude of circumstances and situations, events and experiences, it is common for people embark on starting a family whilst also living with other mental health issues like ongoing anxiety or depression. It’s possible that experiencing a birth trauma can be a catalyst for seeking hypnotherapy whilst still maintaining a therapeutic relationship with your existing mental health therapist or team. A collaborative approach can enhance positive outcomes. Interestingly when people resolve the impact of such a profound negative event they notice the positive effects ripple through other areas of their life.

Conclusion

Being a new parent brings it’s own set of challenges, reduced sleep can make it difficult to process your thoughts and feelings, having a baby or extended family depending on you can easily lead to not prioritising your own needs. For those struggling with the aftermath of a traumatic birth, hypnotherapy offers a promising path to recovery. It’s a gentle and effective treatment approach. And it’s especially beneficial that issues are often resolved in a much quicker time frame than other talking therapies, saving you money and freeing you up to get on with the necessary demands of raising a family.

Midwife led Australia wide antenatal and hypnobirthing class

I have over 20 years experience as a midwife in the UK and Australia, working in both private and public hospitals. I have helped thousands of women in every scenario, from homebirths and water-births, births with complex issues, intervention, and caesarean births.

I am passionate about supporting women and families to be as relaxed and confident as they can be, whatever the circumstances. I have spent 20 years working in the Birth Centre and for the past few years have been an educator as part of the Child Birth Education Team. This means I am up to date with current research, policies and procedures when it comes to all things birth related.

In addition, I am a government accredited Clinical Hypnotherapist, with an Honours degree in Psychology. In my private practice I specialise in treating anxiety, trauma, fertility issues, pain management and phobias, as well as hypnobirthing techniques.

Bringing together these sets of skills, knowledge, and experience I can guide and prepare you to have the positive birth experience that you desire.

What A Focused Birth childbirth education offers you

  • Comprehensive antenatal classes developed and facilitated live by a registered Midwife and Childbirth educator
  • Access to additional resources and recommended reading
  • Toolbox of relaxation techniques, coping strategies, active birth principles
  • Breathing techniques
  • In depth breastfeeding information
  • Chance to ask questions relevant to your individual circumstances
  • Birth Preference Customisable Template
  • Comprehensive customisable ‘What to pack’ lists
  • Huge list of positive affirmations to choose from
  • Opportunity to address personal issues, such as previous traumatic experiences
  • Opportunity to upgrade to include individual hypnotherapy sessions
Justine Daly, Midwife and Childbirth educator

Online antenatal and hypnobirthing class
from $199

Next live course starts Saturday Aug 17

Dates and booking options