Birth trauma is physical pressure or stress that occurs during childbirth causing injury to the child. The long term consequences of damage to the brain that transpires during birth may also be referred to as birth trauma, when discussing incidents from a legal standpoint. When traumatic events occur during childbirth, birth trauma may cause emotional damage to the mother, sometimes resulting in post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD).

Birth Trauma versus Birth Injury

While the terms birth trauma and birth injury are sometimes used interchangeably, birth injuries actually encompass a broader range of systemic damages. Birth injuries can be the result of hypoxia, infections, biochemical factors, and many other factors including birth trauma. Birth trauma only defines damage that has been caused by mechanical means. Birth trauma can also be used to refer to the lasting side effects or complications that develop as a result of the mechanical damage that occurred during birth.

Causes of Birth Trauma

The causes of birth trauma may include:

  • Acceleration of birth
  • Rapid delivery
  • Abnormal birth presentation
  • Prolonged delivery
  • Obstetric turn
  • Use of forceps or vacuum extractor

Effects of Birth Trauma

About 5.9 percent of mothers report PTSD resulting from birth trauma internationally, although diagnosis rates are lower in the United States than other countries. This rate may be higher, as it is estimated that many cases of PTSD go undiagnosed or are diagnosed as Post Natal Depression. Post Natal Depression may actually overlap PTSD in some cases, but the two are not exactly the same and medications and treatments prescribed for one condition may not be effective for treating the other.

Characteristics of Post Natal PTSD may include:

  • Traumatic birth in which there is a threat to the health of the mother or child
  • Feelings of fear and helplessness in response to thoughts of the birth
  • Avoidance of talking about the birth and trauma
  • Avoidance of any reminders of the traumatic birth
  • Flashbacks or nightmares of the traumatic birth
  • Distress, anxiety, and panic when memories of the incident surface
  • Difficulties sleeping or concentrating

Birth Trauma and Infants

There is some controversy over whether birth trauma causes emotional and psychological damage to infants. Some psychologists and researchers feel that infants’ brains are not developed enough to register birth trauma in a way that can cause lasting emotional or psychological damage. Other researchers and psychologists feel that the damage can stay with the child and cause later issues. Immediate physical signs of birth trauma may include forceps marks, distortions of the head, bruising, and lacerations.

Injuries Following Birth Trauma

The physical effects of birth trauma are often difficult to distinguish from systemic damages occurring during childbirth, such as oxygen deprivation. Conditions and injuries that often follow birth trauma, especially head trauma, include hemorrhaging and cephalohematoma. Brachial plexus palsy and spinal cord injuries are also common injuries that result from trauma during delivery. Clavicle fractures are the most common type of fracture, but fractures or any part of the head or body may occur following a birth in which there was abnormal presentation.

Preventing Birth Trauma

The effects of birth trauma on mothers may be prevented in part by educating mothers on the birthing process and the effects of epidurals on preventing the pain associated with childbirth. Processes to ease pain may help to prevent birth complications and injuries to the baby by slowing down or speeding up the birth process, so that mothers do not inadvertently push too hard or conversely not push hard enough. Treating physicians and medical professionals can also help to prevent birth trauma by performing appropriate tests prior to birth so that the position and size of the infant, as well as any other crucial information indicating possible complications is known prior to delivery and appropriate steps can be taken. During delivery, medical professionals can prevent birth trauma by anticipating complications and taking action quickly to address any complications that may develop.



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Chamberlain, David. “Birth Trauma Is Real!” Birth Psychology. The Association for Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health, 1 Jan. 2015. Web. 28 Jan. 2015. <>

“What Is Birth Trauma?” The Birth Trauma Association. Birth Trauma Association. Web. 28 Jan. 2015. <>

Simkin, Penny. “Birth Trauma: Definition and Statistics.” Prevention and Treatment of Traumatic Childbirth. Prevention and Treatment of Traumatic Childbirth, 1 Jan. 2015. Web. 28 Jan. 2015. <>