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  • Writer's pictureJackie Dallas

International Birth Trauma Awareness Week: July 16-22, 2023

Shedding a Light on Birth Trauma, Inspiring Change and Supporting Maternal Well-being

Welcome to International Birth Trauma Awareness Week, a dedicated time to raise awareness about birth trauma and its impact on mothers' well-being. This designated third week in July provides an opportunity to advocate for improved birthing experiences, support those affected by birth trauma, and promote positive change within the healthcare system. In this blog post, we'll delve into the significance of recognizing birth trauma, share eye-opening statistics, highlight organizations making a difference, explore significant events improving birthing experiences in the US, and offer ways for you to contribute. Let's embark on a journey of empowerment, compassion, and positive transformation.


The journey of motherhood is something to be honored, and when birth trauma occurs, it is important to recognize and understand it. Birth trauma refers to the emotional and physical distress experienced by mothers during childbirth. It can result from unexpected medical interventions, complications, inadequate support, or feelings of powerlessness during the birthing process. Recognizing birth trauma is crucial for several reasons.


First, it validates the mothers' experiences and emotions, ensuring they are heard, understood, and supported. It helps to break the silence and reduce the stigma surrounding birth trauma, fostering a compassionate and empathetic environment.


Second, recognizing birth trauma raises awareness among healthcare providers, policymakers, and the general public about the impact of traumatic birth experiences. This encourages education and research to improve birthing practices, promote informed decision-making, and enhance maternal well-being.


And despite being a subject not often discussed, it is not uncommon. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), up to 34% of women worldwide report traumatic birth experiences, varying across different regions and healthcare systems, which can lead to various physical and psychological symptoms, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and perinatal mood disorders.


Globally, birthing was often a traumatizing and statistically deadly experience for women throughout history. Before advancements in medical knowledge and practices, maternal mortality rates were alarmingly high, and complications during childbirth posed significant risks to both mother and baby. Lack of access to sterile environments, inadequate pain management, and limited understanding of prenatal care contributed to the challenges faced by women during childbirth.


Up until the 1970s, there were only two options for giving birth, at home or in the hospital. Giving birth at the hospital provided access to aid and equipment in the event that a medical complication arose, however, many women had no control or input over the drugs or procedures they received. It was almost always a painful experience that could involve forcible dilation of the cervix, episiotomy, delivery with forceps and closure with sutures. Alternatively, giving birth at home offered control over their bodies, but at the risk of safety and unavailability of emergency resources.


In both scenarios, the potential for birth trauma was significant, and the milestones in actual healthcare initiative and policy to protect mothers and promote evidence-based maternal care have been a fairly recent acknowledgement.


During the 1980s, the establishment of birth centers provided a safer alternative to home births and offered a more holistic, family-centered approach with a focus prioritizing personalized care, empowering mothers to make informed decisions and experience a more positive birth environment.


But it wasn't until 1998, that the Mother-Friendly Childbirth Initiative (MFCI) was developed by the Coalition for Improving Maternity Services (CIMS), aimed to promote maternity care practices that respect the physiological and emotional aspects of childbirth, such as allowing freedom of movement during labor, providing access to support persons of choice, and offering breastfeeding support.


In 2003, there was finally evidence-based assessments to measure the quality of perinatal care. Endorsed by the National Quality Forum (NQF), this included measures to reduce primary cesarean births and avoid elective deliveries before 39 weeks of gestation. These standardizations encouraged healthcare providers to establish and follow best practices and reduce unnecessary interventions, improving birth outcomes and a lowering the risk of birth trauma.


The Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010, expanded access to healthcare coverage, including maternity care, for many individuals in the United States. By increasing access and insurance coverage to comprehensive prenatal care, there has been positive impacts to birth outcomes and reduced barriers to seeking necessary care.


In the recent decade, there have been additional guidelines and policies by recognized entities like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) who released guidelines allowing low-risk pregnancies to progress naturally and minimizing interventions, as well as grassroots organizations like Improving Birth who launched a campaign to promote access to vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC) options for women.


Thanks to significant advancements in medical science, improved prenatal care, increased availability of trained healthcare professionals, and the recognition of the importance of informed consent and patient-centered care, childbirth has become safer and less traumatic for many women today. These advancements have significantly reduced maternal mortality rates, improved outcomes, and increased the overall well-being and satisfaction of birthing experiences.


While not all instances of birth trauma can be prevented, there are ways to reduce the risk of it. Preventing and minimizing the effects of birth trauma involves a multi-faceted approach that prioritizes individualized care, informed decision-making, and compassionate support. Beginning with birthing education and preparation, attending childbirth education classes can provide expectant parents with knowledge about the birthing process, available interventions, and coping techniques.


During the pregnancy and planning stages, effective communication and shared decision-making with partners and healthcare providers is vital. Understanding the options and engaging in conversations about risks, benefits and alternatives, can empower parents to make informed decisions that are aligned with their preferences and values. Additionally, healthcare providers are more and more adopting trauma-informed approaches, where they recognize and validate past traumas. By offering choices and prioritizing consent, they can create an environment that fosters a sense of safety and control, minimizing retraumatization and respects the individual's history and experiences. Collaborating with healthcare providers to develop a personalized birth plan not only promotes a positive experience, but a medically safe one.


Once labor kicks in, it's found that having continuous emotional and physical support during labor can significantly reduce the risk of birth trauma. Engaging a birth doula or having a trusted support person, such as a partner or family member, present throughout labor can provide reassurance, advocacy, and comfort.


Then, continuing to providing adequate postpartum support and follow-up care is crucial for the well-being of parents. Providing access to mental health resources, lactation support, and postpartum check-ups can help identify and address any physical or emotional concerns that may arise after childbirth.


It is important to note that each birth experience is unique, and factors beyond our control can influence outcomes. While implementing these strategies can contribute to reducing the risk of birth trauma, it is equally important to provide empathy, understanding, and support to individuals who may have experienced birth trauma, ensuring they have access to appropriate care and resources for their healing journey. By recognizing birth trauma, raising awareness, and advocating for change, we can contribute to creating a more compassionate, empowering, and respectful birthing environment.


Together, let's celebrate the strength and resilience of mothers, improve maternal care, and inspire positive transformations in the journey of motherhood.



Resources for Support and Assistance:

  • International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN): www.ican-online.org

  • Birth Trauma Association: www.birthtraumaassociation.org.uk

  • Postpartum Support International (PSI): www.postpartum.net


Organizations Making a Difference:

  • March of Dimes - Committed to ending prevent able maternal health risks and deaths, preterm and infant deaths, and close the health equity gap. www.marchofdimes.org

  • Improving Birth is a grassroots organization dedicated to promoting evidence-based maternity care, informed decision-making, and respectful birthing experiences. www.improvingbirth.org

  • National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) - NAPW advocates for the rights and well-being of pregnant individuals, fighting against punitive policies and advocating for respectful maternity care. www.nationaladvocatesforpregnantwomen.org.


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