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10 Ways to Heal From Birth Trauma


Nobody expects childbirth to be a cinch, but for some, giving birth is actually a traumatic experience. Unwanted medical interventions, emergency procedures, nasty nurses or doctors, and frightening life-threatening moments can and do happen in the delivery room. This can leave new moms with psychological pain alongside the physical discomforts.

Start down the road to healing with suggestions from Suzanne Swanson, a Minnesota-based psychologist who serves on the board of, an organization devoted to the prevention and treatment of traumatic childbirth.

1. Give Yourself Time

closeup of a calendar

“There is time to work with your feelings, but you don’t have to work with them all right now,” says Swanson. If you do decide to put aside an issue or an emotion, though, talk with your spouse or a trusted friend to set a time to revisit it. Swanson advises literally putting the topic on your calendar—e.g., "Talk about epidural"—so you're sure to come back to it.

2. Be Kind to Yourself

a closeup of a young woman thinking of something

There’s a tendency to turn the emotions that come with a traumatic childbirth inward, which can lead to feelings of shame and self-loathing. Instead of going down that road, “be kind to yourself for everything you’ve been through,” says Swanson. “Let yourself have all your feelings," including anger, disappointment, and frustration. And remind yourself to cultivate kindness toward yourself even as you live with those feelings.

3. Reclaim Your Birth Story

a drawing of a cloud in front of the sun

Swanson advises moms, when they’re ready, to revisit their birth experiences with an eye toward discovering something—anything—that can be a positive or empowering association. “Look both at what went well and what was lost,” she says,” and practice including details, like a nurse who was kind, a decision you felt included in, or even the fact that you were excited when you went into labor, in the telling of your birth story.

4. Write a Letter to Your Health Care Team

a woman writing on a piece of paper

Regardless of whether you ever actually mail it, writing one or more letters to members of the medical team that tended to your birth can be a healing experience. If there was a person who stood out as a calming, validating, and supportive voice in the midst of all the scariness, communicating your gratitude will feel good for both of you. Alternatively, if there were professionals who made you feel dismissed or silenced or helpless, it may be cathartic for you to share that and reclaim your voice in the process.

5. Rediscover Love for Your Body

a mom pushing her stroller in a park

Wellness practices such as gentle yoga, meditation, warm baths, and massages are ways to bestow some love on your body at a time when it is in great need of tender care. Exercise, in the form a long walk with your baby or a short video routine you can do while she naps, is also an invaluable part of respecting and regaining strength in the body that has been through so much.

6. Get the Support You Need

a mom consoling her daughter near the waters edge

Well-intentioned friends and family, concerned for your well-being, might inadvertently say the wrong thing. Swanson suggests writing down some phrases to help you redirect awkward conversations in a healing direction. For example, if someone says, “You and the baby are both fine, so why don’t you let your birth experience go?” you could reply, “I know you’re glad we’re both here and alive, and I’m grateful for that too, but I’m not grateful for how it happened.” Even reciting your feelings to yourself can be helpful, especially if you don’t feel like the person is able to fully hear you.

7. Review Your Medical Records

a large filing cabinet

Swanson advises taking great care if you want to request a copy of your medical records. Reviewing the records can be an excellent way to check your memory against the facts of what happened—when, and, perhaps, why. However, Swanson cautions that reading the records can be a “trigger” or “activator” that can make you feel like you’re “right back in the trauma.” She advises having a specific piece of information you hope to learn from the records, and strongly advises reading them with the support of—or even with—a counselor or therapist.

8. Breathe in a Healing Way

a woman looking down deep in thought

When you find yourself in an anxious or agitated state, Swanson advises a breathing technique called “4-7-8.” Start by drawing your breath in for a slow count of 4, then hold it for a slow count of 7. Finally, exhale for a slow count of 8. Elongating your exhale will actually “reset” your brain’s anxiety response, and practicing the technique multiple times each day can give you more of a buffer against the waves of emotion and post-traumatic anxiety that can surface at any time.

9. Seek Professional Help

a young woman talking to her mom

Postpartum Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a real, diagnose-able emotional state, and a counselor or therapist who specializes in trauma—especially birth trauma—can be a crucial member of your healing team. PATTCh.orgestimates that traumatic childbirth occurs in as many as 25 to 34 percent of all births, and a third of those women may develop PTSD. Having a professional help you process the feelings of helplessness, anger, self-loathing, isolation, or fear is a great gift you can give yourself, your partner, and your baby.

10. Be Prepared for Anniversaries

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It may feel like a long way off, but your baby’s first birthday will be here before you know it. Anniversaries like a birthday, or the day you were admitted to the hospital, or the day you brought your baby home, can bring painful memories to the forefront. At these times consider stepping up your self-care, checking in with a counselor or therapist, journaling, and more. This will help you make room to celebrate your beautiful baby—and his beautiful mom.

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