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Signs That Your Body is Holding Birth Trauma

Our birth experience is our very first entry into the world. It imprints upon us, a notion of how safe the environment is, how safe we are and what it's like to be alive. This imprint sets the stage for the rest of our lives, influencing our nervous system and everything from our ability to form relationships to our capacity for learning and emotional regulation. What happens if our birth was traumatic?

Maybe you're wondering if the challenges you've repeatedly come up against are in some way connected to your birth process. Perhaps you're aware that you had a traumatic birth but you're not sure how to heal. It's really common to wonder whether birth trauma is a 'real thing' and to feel like you're clutching at straws trying to explain something you can't even really describe. Maybe, like many of my clients, you've been to therapy in the past but it hasn't helped. If so, you're not alone.

In this article, I explain how unresolved birth trauma actually affects our nervous system as adults. I go into detail about the specific signs of birth trauma imprints and discuss how doing this healing work for yourself helps you connect deeper to who you truly are, access renewed momentum to move forward in life and release the fears that are holding you back.

On my podcast you can try my free guided healing session specifically for releasing in utero and birth trauma here. To understand how trauma can be transmitted from mother to child in utero, read my blog. As always, if you're ready for deeper healing reach out to me. 

What Is Birth Trauma?

Birth trauma encompasses the physical, emotional, and energetic imprints left by a stressful pregnancy or medically intervened delivery. Whether you experienced a difficult labor, emergency procedures like forceps or vacuum extraction, or even a near-death experience, the consequences can be far-reaching.

Fear and danger floods the baby's brain with stress hormones, and if this intensity is not immediately discharged through somatic healing, it can lead to long-term neurological imbalances and immune system disruptions.

Examples of Birth Trauma

As you read through the following list, take a moment to reflect on your own birth experience. See if any of these scenarios sound familiar or resonate with you on a deep level. Understanding the specifics of your birth journey can be a vital first step in uncovering and healing any lingering trauma.

  • Unwelcoming or fearful feelings at the discovery of your pregnancy

  • Stressful or abusive relationship between your parents during pregnancy or after your birth

  • Maternal stress, fear, or depression experienced by your mother during pregnancy or infancy

  • Being an unwanted child for some part of the pregnancy

  • Consideration or attempts of abortion during your mother's pregnancy

  • Biochemical stresses during pregnancy from nicotine, alcohol, pesticides, etc.

  • The loss of a twin during pregnancy, including early pregnancy or during birth

  • Unresolved traumatic histories in your parents or ancestors, such as early abuse, loss of a parent, traumatic birth, or being given up for adoption

  • Hospitalization or surgery as an infant, including circumcision

  • Previous traumatic experiences, such as sexual abuse, that were triggered during your mother's pregnancy, labor, or delivery

  • Fear or anxiety related to the birth process or parenting, including fears of not being a good parent or of not being able to provide for you as a newborn

  • Cultural or societal pressures that led to feelings of guilt or inadequacy if birth or parenting expectations were not met

These are just a few examples of the many ways birth trauma can manifest. As you reflect on your own history, be gentle and compassionate with yourself. The path to healing is not always straightforward, but by acknowledging and addressing these early imprints, you unlock the possibility of profound transformation and wholeness

Is Birth Trauma Common?

The stats show that every year, 30% of women experience a traumatic birth and about 6% end up with PTSD.

From my experience however, birth trauma is much more common than the statistics would suggest. For trauma imprints to be created, the birth doesn't have to be a near death experience or an explicit medical emergency. There is a whole spectrum of more subtle traumas that can and do take place. They're rarely talked about and even much less supported. The point is, your mother doesn't have to be diagnosed with PTSD after birth or have faced extreme medical distress for birth trauma to have affected you.

Explicit and physical birth trauma encompasses a range of distressing events that occur during pregnancy, labor, and delivery, leaving lasting marks on both the parent and child. This can include medical interventions such as C-sections, forceps, or vacuum extraction, which may be necessary but can also result in physical trauma and injury. Instances of anesthesia that disconnect the parent from the birthing process or separation from the mother after birth can also contribute to explicit birth trauma. Complications during labor, such as excessive blood loss, cord complications, or prolonged labor, can lead to physical distress and long-term health implications for both parent and child. Moreover, medical procedures like heel sticks or spinal taps, often performed for diagnostic purposes, can cause pain and trauma to the newborn, adding to the burden of explicit birth trauma.

Implicit and emotional-related birth trauma delves into the less visible yet deeply impactful aspects of the birthing experience. It encompasses psychological and emotional stressors that may arise during pregnancy, labor, and postpartum periods. Emotional trauma can stem from feelings of unwelcomeness or fear upon the discovery of pregnancy, stressful relationships between parents, or maternal stress, fear, or depression during pregnancy or infancy. Cultural or societal pressures to adhere to certain birthing practices or parenting styles can also contribute to implicit birth trauma, leading to feelings of guilt or inadequacy if expectations are not met. Moreover, experiences of fear, anxiety, or trauma related to the birth process or parenting can exacerbate emotional distress for the parent, impacting their mental well-being and the parent-child bond. These implicit forms of birth trauma highlight the importance of holistic support and compassionate care throughout the perinatal journey to mitigate emotional distress and promote healing and resilience for both parent and child.

I deal with all aspects of this including the subtle imprints of fear that are transmitted through the birthing process. One example of this is a client of mine who could feel her mother's powerlessness and despair in her adult body, which was caused by her mother not having any emotional support from her husband or her midwives during the pregnancy and birth. This was affecting her own ability to believe in herself and form healthy relationships.

Signs of Birth Trauma in Babies & Children

  • Cross eyes or divergent eyes, where the eyes don't align properly or appear to look in different directions.

  • Shaking, tremors, or seizures, involuntary movements or convulsions that may be indicative of neurological issues.

  • Inconsolable crying or screaming, prolonged periods of intense crying or distress.

  • Pushing away from the mother during feeding, showing aversion or discomfort during feeding sessions.

  • Inability to feed without extreme discomfort, experiencing pain or discomfort during feeding.

  • Hypersensitivity to touch, being overly sensitive to tactile sensations.

  • Hypermobility, joints that move beyond the normal range of motion.

  • Avoidance of eye contact, showing reluctance or discomfort in making eye contact with others.

  • Difficulty breathing, encountering challenges or discomfort in breathing.

  • Cranial deformations, abnormalities in the shape or structure of the skull.

  • Spinal cord injury, damage to the spinal cord that may result in sensory, motor, or autonomic dysfunction.

  • Loose or lack of muscle tone in the arms, showing decreased muscle strength or tone.

  • Stiff or rigid limbs, lacking flexibility or fluidity of movement.

  • Appearing floppy like a ragdoll, exhibiting low muscle tone and reduced responsiveness.

  • Failure to crawl, missing the developmental milestone of crawling.

  • Extreme hypervigilance, being excessively alert or watchful.

  • Delayed milestones such as crawling or walking, achieving developmental milestones later than expected.

  • Excessive startle response to noise or movement, reacting strongly or excessively to sudden stimuli.

  • Excessive crying or fussiness, showing prolonged periods of crying or agitation.

  • Developmental delays or regression, delays in achieving developmental milestones or regression in previously acquired skills.

  • Irritability or difficulty soothing, having trouble calming down or being comforted.

  • Fear or avoidance of certain objects or activities, showing aversion or anxiety towards specific stimuli.

  • Hyperactivity or attention difficulties, being overly active or having trouble focusing.

  • Sleep disturbances or nightmares, experiencing disruptions in sleep patterns or distressing dreams.

  • Regression of previously mastered skills such as toilet training or language acquisition, reverting to earlier stages of development.

  • Chronic health issues such as asthma or eczema that may be related to stress or trauma, experiencing persistent health problems exacerbated by stress or trauma.

  • Difficulty with social interactions or forming attachments, encountering challenges in relating to others or forming emotional connections.

  • Overwhelming anxiety or fear in response to normal daily activities, feeling intense fear or anxiety in everyday situations.

  • Physical symptoms such as headaches or stomachaches with no medical cause, experiencing physical discomfort without underlying medical explanations.

  • Night terrors or flashbacks of the traumatic experience, experiencing intense nightmares or vivid recollections of traumatic events.

Physical Signs of Unresolved Birth Trauma in Adults

  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, characterized by extreme fatigue that doesn't improve with rest and can worsen with physical or mental activity.

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), triggered by a terrifying event, either experiencing it or witnessing it, and characterized by symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety.

  • A history of suicidal tendencies or persistent suicidal thoughts from childhood into adulthood, indicating underlying emotional distress or trauma.

  • Learning Disabilities, conditions that affect the brain's ability to process information and may impact learning, reading, writing, or mathematical skills.

  • Nightmares and flashbacks related to confinement in the womb or traumatic experiences, experiencing vivid and distressing dreams or recollections of birth trauma.

  • Diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) (as a symptom, not a root cause), which can manifest in symptoms like impulsivity, hyperactivity, and difficulty focusing.

  • Asthma, a chronic respiratory condition characterized by inflammation and narrowing of the airways, leading to breathing difficulties.

  • Seizures and Epilepsy since childhood, experiencing recurrent episodes of abnormal electrical activity in the brain that can result in seizures.

  • Chronic pain, particularly in the back or pelvic area, which may be persistent and debilitating.

  • Digestive issues such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or acid reflux, characterized by abdominal discomfort, bloating, and irregular bowel movements.

  • Long-term hormonal imbalances or irregular menstrual cycles, which can affect mood, energy levels, and reproductive health.

  • Chronic tension or headaches, persistent discomfort or pain in the head or neck region.

  • Chronic illnesses or autoimmune disorders, conditions where the immune system mistakenly attacks the body's own tissues.

  • Sensitivity to light or sound, experiencing discomfort or pain in response to exposure to bright lights or loud noises.

  • Skin disorders or rashes, characterized by abnormalities or irritation on the skin's surface.

  • Reproductive issues such as infertility or difficult pregnancies, facing challenges with conceiving or carrying a pregnancy to term.

  • Chronic respiratory issues such as bronchitis or pneumonia, experiencing recurrent inflammation or infections of the respiratory tract.

  • Chronic or recurring infections, persistent infections that may require ongoing treatment or management.

  • Cardiovascular issues such as high blood pressure or heart disease, conditions affecting the heart and blood vessels, increasing the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Emotional & Psychological Signs of Unresolved Birth Trauma in Adults

  • Intense and overwhelming fear

  • Feeling of helplessness

  • Feeling drained / no life force / like you've run a marathon every day

  • Feeling of being completely unsupported

  • Feeling of dread around your own existence

  • Sense of the world being inherently dangerous

  • Fear of death

  • Intense anxiety or panic attacks

  • Avoidance of anything related to pregnancy or childbirth

  • Feeling disconnected from your own body or emotions

  • Difficulty forming or maintaining intimate relationships

  • Shame or guilt related to the birth experience

  • Low self-esteem or feelings of worthlessness

  • Anger or irritability, especially related to the birth experience

  • Difficulty trusting others or feeling safe in the world

  • Feelings of being stuck or trapped in the past

  • Intrusive thoughts or images related to the traumatic experience

  • Feelings of numbness or dissociation from oneself or the world around them

  • Difficulty regulating emotions or feeling overwhelmed by them

  • Self-destructive behavior or thoughts of self-harm.

  • Difficulty bonding with your child or feeling disconnected from them

  • Overprotective or hypervigilant behavior towards your child

  • Postpartum depression or anxiety

  • Recurrent nightmares or flashbacks of the traumatic experience

  • A sense of guilt or responsibility for the traumatic experience

  • Feeling overwhelmed or hopeless about the future

  • Difficulty with self-care or self-nurturing behaviors

  • Substance abuse or addiction as a means of coping with the trauma

  • Avoidance of situations or people that trigger memories of the traumatic experience

  • Difficulty setting and maintaining boundaries in relationships

  • Hypersensitivity to sounds, smells, or other sensory stimuli that remind you of the traumatic experience

  • A sense of disorientation or confusion about one's own identity or purpose.

What My Clients Say About Healing Their Birth Trauma

"I entered Womb Room with an open curiosity and some trepidation, but with hopes of getting to know more about how I came into this world. I was an emergency C-Section and planned adoption; I was born in a nursing home in London. I believe my adoptive parents collected me when I was two weeks old. The first days of Womb precipitated huge physical releases. On one occasion, during the second healing session it felt as if ‘stuff’ was being pulled from my body because it was no longer needed. I had jaw tremors on several occasions and heat, tingles and prickles all over my body, particularly the skin on my face. As we moved into the second half of the journey, I realised that Womb was expansive, spacious and nurturing. The answers I had been looking for, in relation to my birth and biological mother, were not there. However in their place was a sense of knowing that ‘not knowing’ was exactly perfect and that Womb was always there for me and would keep me safe. The need to understand and have my curiosity satisfied was just unnecessary and meaningless. At the end of the journey, my sense is that in letting go of ‘the need to know’ I have become more embodied, more at one with the universe and myself, and with that - recognising that we are all one. I am my biological mother, just as she is me. With this knowledge came limitless freedom within me.” -Sara, UK

"During the session I felt a lot of chemical release. Lots of release in the brain, I literally felt the top of my left shoulder nerve by nerve being plucked and rewired. Both my masculine and feminine side being stretched and rested. Lots of work in my liver.Saw myself in utero. It felt like the only time I connected with my mother and father together.... the only time they were in unison. The only time I felt deeply loved by my father. So much coughing and air moving through me and my womb. I was holding myself... rocking myself slowly like a small child letting her know she is safe. That we are one. That it’s okay to feel. You are loved little one, you are loved. I remember seeing pink and blue and a quick flash of utero, a deep red rose, rainbows, and light beam. Oh I also saw what I perceive to be the universe I’m not really sure. I saw a the colors of the earth spinning with a hole in the middle? I love you all so much <3 I surrender and bow down to womb and all of my fellow womb warriors."

"Wow Safa! I went into my birth process! My upper body movements reflected me going through the birthing canal and when I came out and saw what’s around me, I started laughing! A proper belly laugh, thinking: what the heck is this world? It looks so funny! And everyone is so serious! 😆 it filled me with so much joy ✨ and these past two days new things have been coming to me, offers, people, new thoughts, new plans... combined with the last new moon, Safa your super powerful healing and the energy of this Womb Room is a magical combo!!!" 🙌🏼 Simona - UK

"Wow today was really gentle and uplifting. I had some powerful imagery that i was centred to the earth initially from an umbilical cord, then I transformed into a foetus and was protected by the earths core then was born onto the earth and transformed into an adult that was deeply rooted from my nerves all the way back to the earths core. I was earth and earth was me. It was beautiful and powerful."

"I came into Womb Room with a number of areas to be healed including a Womb full of anger and physical pain. Since my first pregnancy i have bled heavily every month for 9 yrs. I tried every diet and lots of therapies all which gave me some short term relief. I never got to the root cause. In Womb Room I met my anger and realised i was angry with my womb because i didn't give birth vaginally. I also got to understand why i didn't have a vaginal birth - as i didn't feel that I was good enough. A theme that has played out in my life for the past 43yrs. "-Orla, Ireland

Why Birth Trauma Can Be Difficult To Recognise As An Adult

Most adults with unresolved birth trauma have already been diagnosed with a chronic health condition. This makes it harder to realise the root causes occurred much earlier in the development of the nervous system.

Firstly, most people don't know the details of their birth or their mother's emotional state, what she was going through, how connected she even was to her own womb. It's not really something people talk about over the dinner table right? As a result, unless it was an explicitly traumatic medical emergency it's very common to not even know what your own birth was actually like.

Pre-verbal trauma also doesn't offer solid memory which can make you feel lost in the dark when it comes to finding the root causes of your symptoms. This is where I help my clients get crystal clear on what trauma is being held in their body.

Another reason why birth trauma is hard to identify is because as the primal nervous system is already in fight or flight and the energy body is in a fear state, other layers of trauma and dysregulation build up through life and so the original birth trauma often becomes fossilised. This means by the time you're an adult looking to heal, there are many layers of trauma possibly including the birth of your own children, that need to be cleared and integrated, as well as your own birth experience.

The longer trauma is left untreated, the more complex the nervous system adaptations are and the more ingrained the patterns of fear are. These are unspoken and often unspeakable - after all, as a tiny baby you would have no way to speak about your distress. This is why most therapies such as CBT, psychotherapy and surface level energy work do not help when it comes to resolving birth trauma. It is important to do depth healing work, deep somatic integration and womb work with someone like myself, in a safe and long term container. You will not resolve birth trauma without doing the precursory healing work to allow yourself to drop into these deeper layers.

This means you are able to release deeper layers and actually fundamentally change your nervous system and as a result, your beliefs about yourself and your life. The other aspect that makes healing birth trauma tricky is that there is an ancestral component to the process and therefore deep ancestral healing of the feminine line is vital, as it offers a completion of the process.

You Might Also Like To Read:

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