Childbirth is similar to being in a war zone – experts warn


ALMOST 3500 mothers in Scotland suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after giving birth to their children every year, according to experts.

Doctors believe, that like soldiers returning from war, women giving birth can suffer lasting psychological damage due to their birthing experience.

Colin Howard, Executive Director of Manor Hall, Centre for Trauma in Stirling said that up to 6% of mothers in Scotland suffer from PTSD after giving birth.


This means that 3481 women suffer from the debilitating disorder every year alone.

Experts say that this can have a “disastrous” effect on mothers leaving them with years of traumatic flashbacks and can even damage their relationship with their child.

One mother who was diagnosed with PTSD after the birth of her first baby said that she still has nightmares from her daughter’s birth more than a year on.

Doctors believe that the condition is currently underdiagnosed as new mothers are scared to open up about their traumatic experience and the consequences it is having on their life.

As well as damaging the bond between mother and child, women can also lose interest in sex and their partner – as they can bring back memories of the birth.

The condition is currently underdiagnosed

Symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks to the birth as well as increased anxiety.

One mother, who wished not to be named, said that she still struggles with what happened to her.

She said: “I still have nightmares about the birth. What was supposed to be one of the best experiences of my life, was the worst. Of course I love my daughter but it was all just too much.

“I had a pretty straight forward pregnancy all the way through. I went into labour a week early and the whole process was a long one. I was in labour for over 24 hours and in the end I had to have an episiotomy. While giving birth I ended up tearing and losing a lot of blood.

“After I was given my daughter things got hazy and I thought I was going to die. I didn’t know what was happening all I thought was ‘this is the it, I’m dying.”

“After I just didn’t feel right. I couldn’t even think about having sex again until after a year, and I am still not sure whether I could go through that again to have more children.

“At first I thought I might have had postnatal depression, but the feelings around the birth were just so intense, whenever I thought about it I just wanted to scream.

“I am starting to feel more myself now, but even more than a year the birth always plays on my mind.”

Losing a lot of blood

Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) is being successfully used by doctors to treat mothers suffering from PTSD.

EMDR, which is used to break up traumatic memories using eye movements, is commonly used with returning soldiers and war veterans suffering from the disorder.

Colin Howard, Executive Director of Manor Hall, Centre for Trauma in Stirling said: “It is quite outstanding, the figures involved. The prevalence is about one and a half to six percent of mothers.

“There are a number of factors which can lead to a woman suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after giving birth.

“There is the lack of control while in labour and the attitude of staff, there could also be inadequate pain relief, or no support from significant others. Sometimes women are experiencing unbearable pain and have no one to help them through it.

 A number of women who have suffered PTSD after giving birth

“Historical data can be very important in this though. For example, women who have had a traumatic experience in the past can be more likely to suffer from PTSD after childbirth, especially those who have been sexually abused.

“A woman who has been sexually abused can be going into labour and may have a male doctor telling them to do things like open your legs, that’s a good girl and push, this is very likely to trigger fear which can lead to PTSD.”

Dr Alexander Yellowlees, Medical Director and Consultant Psychiatrist at the Priory in Glasgow said that he has treated a number of women who have suffered PTSD after giving birth.

Dr Yellowlees said: “I have treated several women who have PTSD after giving birth. It sometimes does not initially present as this, they may think they have depression or post natal depression, but when you start to talk about their experience it can lead to PTSD.

“It is about the perceived level of threat. As with all people who suffer from PTSD you believe that what is happening to you or around could lead to your death.

“There are not exact figures for this, but I think it should be more common than it appears when you think about what they went go through.

“Not many women talk about it, and I think that is why we do not hear about it. Like when soldiers came back from the war, they were just expected to get on with it, there is the same mentality here too.”