PTSD in the Nursery: When childbirth is traumatic, mothers often suffer in silence

“Over her 20-year career as a childbirth educator at Birth Partners, Inc., McGrath has met many women who experienced a traumatic birth. McGrath listens to each woman’s story, moment by moment. Her role is to provide validation and help them move on.

“To me, the definition of healing is being able to make the birth part of your life story and not front and center,” McGrath said.

Sometimes the traumatic event itself cannot be avoided, but what the hospital staff does in response can have a huge impact on how the woman perceives her birth and whether she develops PTSD, McGrath said.

Healthcare providers don’t receive formal training for preventing PTSD in patients, but obstetrician April Dunmyre tries to help her patients through emergency procedures by explaining what’s happening and why.

For instance, Dunmyre said she may tell a woman that an emergency C-section is best because the baby’s heart rate is low. Then she would mentally prepare the patient for the rush of people who will enter the room and provide reassurance that her partner can be in the operating room.

After the dust settles, Dunmyre debriefs the patient and answers questions.

“They might not be awake or alert enough or they might still be scared after they have their procedure,” said Dunmyre, who works at Magee Womancare Associates, “but then the next day the doctor or the midwife…will discuss with them what happened.”

In Deth’s case, these conversations would have been helpful. She said a lot of the negative aspects of her birth and the aftermath were caused by a lack of clear communication.

The turning point for Deth and Moss in processing their traumatic births was discovering New Mom’s Coffee (NMC). McGrath and Kids Plus Pediatrics created NMC as a donation-based support group for new mothers.”


“Before coming to NMC, Moss said she wasn’t really aware of the concept of traumatic birth. So many people had fed her the line that she should just be grateful her baby is healthy, but at NMC she was given the space to vent about how emotionally challenging it is to almost lose a child.

Part of the reason McGrath started NMC is to help women who underwent a traumatic birth not to feel alone and to find validation for their lingering negative emotions.

“I think all of us need to be aware that just because the baby was OK it doesn’t necessarily mean it was a good experience,” McGrath said. “You don’t need to pry for details, but just open the door to talk with her about it. You don’t need to try to put a happy spin on it.”

Hare, Erin. “PTSD in the nursery: When childbirth is traumatic, mothers often suffer in silence.” PublicSource, 27 Dec. 2016,