How Birth Trauma Impacts Parent and Child

3 Min Read

Mother holds infant child

Birth trauma often refers to physical injuries a child may suffer at birth, but it can also refer to the psychological trauma a parent might experience during a complicated delivery or cesarean section (C-section).

Unfortunately, trauma at birth remains prevalent and can have lasting impacts on families, even a child’s development. Additionally, families of color and those in lower socioeconomic statuses are more likely to experience traumatic births.

Many parents may not realize the risks that birth trauma has on maternal health and the development and health of their child.

Birth Injury and Birth Trauma Statistics

Birth injury and birth trauma may impact more parents than we realize. In fact, a 2018 study published in The Journal of Perinatal Education found that nearly half of new mothers reported traumatic birthing experiences.

Studies have found that 3-4% of postpartum women experience posttraumatic stress disorder from childbirth. Those rates skyrocket to 20% in mothers who experience an emergency C-section, premature birth, or an otherwise traumatic birth.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 1 in 8 women have experienced major postpartum depression — a rate that many believe is underreported due to mental health stigmas.

Some birth delivery protocols changed drastically during the pandemic to help keep parents, families, and medical staff safe from possible infection. However, these changes increased birth anxiety, stress, and depression before, during, and after delivery.

Birth trauma may occur naturally, such as when a baby is born in the breech (feet-first) position or when the baby’s head is too large to fit through the birth canalHowever, in some cases, birth trauma is preventable and/or caused by medical malpractice.

Sadly, some parents are even disregarded or ignored during delivery by their care team. Additionally, women of color and women in lower socioeconomic statuses are more likely to experience medical malpractice during childbirth.

How Birth Trauma Influences the Parent-Child Relationship

Birth trauma can have a range of effects on both parent and child, and present as either physical or mental conditions. Some children may develop permanent complications as a result of a birth injury, such as cerebral palsy, which can be caused by brain damage during childbirth

Other effects of birth trauma may go unnoticed. Mothers may neglect their mental health following a traumatic delivery, despite serious symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression.

Severe PTSD and postpartum depression symptoms may include:

  • Anxiety or panic attacks
  • Avoiding places or people that strike memories of the traumatic event
  • Feeling numb or showing a lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Forgetfulness
  • Flashbacks or recurring memories of the traumatic event
  • Isolating from family and friends
  • Sleeplessness

These symptoms can make daily tasks incredibly difficult or even impossible, especially while caring for a child. If parents are unable to care for themselves, it can lead to strained bonds with their child. Further, some children may develop anxiety and depression if their parents are avoidant, forgetful, or irritable.

Healing From Birth Trauma

Birth trauma, especially when it leads to depression, anxiety, and PTSD, can be isolating. In fact, some mothers who experience postpartum depression do not share their feelings because of shame and stigmas about motherhood and depression.

Additionally, since some instances of birth trauma can result from medical errors, parents may feel trust has been broken with their medical team. The most important step you can take toward healing is to begin talking to loved ones and mental health professionals.

Thankfully, many parents who experience birth trauma see improvements in their mental health through therapy, support groups, and other resources. As healing progresses, parents can start strengthening their bond with their children.

In the case of serious birth injuries, parents may also consider seeking legal support to pursue compensation for necessary medical treatments and therapies.

However you choose to proceed, you don’t have to go through it alone. Contact the Birth Injury Justice Center team at (800) 914-1562 to learn how we can help you get the resources you need to heal.

Birth Injury Support Team

The Birth Injury Justice Center was founded in 2003 by a team of legal professionals to educate and empower victims and families affected by birth injuries. Our team is devoted to providing you with the best resources and legal information for all types of birth injuries.

View 5 Sources
  1. Beck, C. T., Watson, S., & Gable, R. K. (2018). “Traumatic Childbirth and Its Aftermath: Is There Anything Positive?” The Journal of Perinatal Education. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6193358/. Accessed on February 9, 2023.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Depression Among Women.” Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/depression/index.htm. Accessed on February 9, 2023.
  3. CDC. “Maternal and Infant Health.” Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/maternalinfanthealth/index.html. Accessed on February 9, 2023.
  4. Choi, K. et al. (2020). “Promotion of Maternal–Infant Mental Health and Trauma-Informed Care During the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic & Neonatal Nursing. Retrieved from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0884217520301155. Accessed on February 9, 2023.
  5. Rados, S., et al. (2020). “The role of posttraumatic stress and depression symptoms in mother-infant bonding.” Journal of Affective Disorders. Retrieved from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0165032719310833. Accessed on February 9, 2023.