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It is estimated that nearly one in two women experience some level of birth trauma. While so many of us plan and prepare for a positive birth experience, sadly things often don’t go to plan. My son’s birth was long and scary, and even when I reflect on it now, 17 years later, my heart still begins to race.
A powerful project endeavouring to bring this issue to the light is Exposing the Silence. A moving photo series that tells the traumatic experiences endured by many women across the US.
The project aims to show women that they are not alone in their experiences, and to make care providers aware of the significant impact of their treatment. The women behind the project know that "treating women with respect and compassion during this very vulnerable time will result in better health outcomes and happier moms and babies!"
And that can only bring good to the world.
So, what is birth trauma?
Birth trauma is different for everyone - basically, if the birth felt traumatic, then you experienced birth trauma.
Medically speaking, a traumatic birth is considered one where there were injuries or serious danger to the health of mother or child. But the problem with this definition is that both you and baby can be physically okay, but you’re still traumatised by the birthing process.
One mother identified this in Exposing the Silence when she said,
"You can be grateful and appreciative of having a healthy baby and still be completely traumatized by your birth experience."
Others use a wider definition of birthing trauma to encompass the mental and emotional trauma, including those diagnosed with or experiencing some of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder after childbirth.
While one in twenty-five may be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, many of us experience the symptoms.
The four main symptoms being:
But this definition still does not capture everyone’s experiences.
When we're birthing, we're at our most vulnerable, and being ignored or our concerns dismissed can turn a difficult time into an emotionally traumatic time. A traumatic birth is in stark contrast to a positive birth experience.
The World Health Organisation defines a ‘positive birth experience’ as:
"One that fulfils or exceeds a woman’s prior personal and sociocultural beliefs and expectations, including giving birth to a healthy baby in a clinically and psychologically safe environment with continuity of practical and emotional support from a birth companion(s) and kind, technically competent clinical staff. It is based on the premise that most women want a physiological labour and birth, and to have a sense of personal achievement and control through involvement in decision-making, even when medical interventions are needed or wanted."
Emotional support, kindness, and empowerment is key. When the people supporting us are kind, motivating and compassionate, our vulnerability can become our strength.💖
How does birthing become a negative or traumatic experience?
Birthing can become a traumatic experience for mothers when there are unexpected complications, when they don't feel seen or heard, and when they experience pain and loss of control.
Research is ongoing, but some factors that can lead to a traumatic birth experience other than baby's health and safety are:
What are the consequences of birth trauma?
A traumatic birthing experience can lead to negative health consequences for both mother and baby.
Studies have shown that a negative birth experience can lead to depression, anxiety and post-traumatic, and can negatively impact breastfeeding, bonding and the development of a healthy mother-baby relationship.
A healthy mother-baby relationship is crucial for baby's future development. So anything we can do to improve the birthing experience is super valuable. Prevention is so much better than cure.
Can aromatherapy massage help?
Back in 1997, the impact of massage during labour was explored in a small study with twenty-eight women. One group received coaching on massage and breathing, the other group was coached only on breathing. The massaged mothers reported a decrease in depressed mood, anxiety and pain, and showed less agitated activity and anxiety and more positive affect following the first massage during labour. The massaged mothers also had "significantly shorter labours, a shorter hospital stay and less postpartum depression."
In that study the pregnant women's partners massaged then during the first 15 minutes of every hour of labour. They were given instructions on massaging the back and the legs of the birthing mother from a side-lying position.
In a review of this study, the author concluded, "The women experienced significantly less pain, their labours were on average 3 h shorter with less need for medication.”
In 2000, a large study of over 6000 women in the UK explored the use of aromatherapy during labour. The aromatherapy was administered in different ways, including a drop on pillow, massage, or foot bath. The effect of aromatherapy reduced fear and anxiety by 62%, as well as relieving physical symptoms such as pain and nausea; lavender and frankincense oils being the most frequently used.
Over 50% of the women rated aromatherapy helpful, and only 13% unhelpful. At the hospital, they observed a decrease in the need to pain medication, the use of pethidine dropped from 6% to 0.2% of women.
A 2016 study assessed the effect of aromatherapy massage with lavender essential oil on the level of pain and anxiety during labour among Primigravida women.
Their research had identified that anxiety and fear were factors contributing towards women's pain and affected their labour and birth experience. If the labour pain was not controlled, mothers can feel fear, anxiety, helplessness, and loss of control throughout the birthing process.
The hypothesis was that those who received aromatherapy massage would experience lower levels of labour pain and anxiety during the active and transitional phase of the first stage of labour.
There were 60 women in the study. The first group received aromatherapy massage, the second group only received massage.
They authors concluded,
"From the results of the current study, it can be concluded that aromatherapy with lavender oil can reduce labour pain and anxiety during labour. Also, it is an effective way to decrease labour duration. Most of the women were satisfied by this intervention. This method can influence the quality of care provided during childbirth by reducing the suffering of women in labour."
It was recommended that, "Lavender aromatherapy massage be offered to women in labour for pain relief."
This was also confirmed in a 2018 study.
If this sounds like something you'd like to use during your labour, talk about it with your primary care provider and make a plan.
What do you use for an aromatherapy massage?
Everkind has created Bloom specifically for supporting women during pregnancy, labour and beyond. Infusing organic camellia oil (which is a non-greasy and quickly absorbed oil) with a safe, exquisite, low-camphor organic lavender essential from France.
But that's not the only way.
If funds are tight, you prefer to make your own or you want a vegan option, you can use a simple DIY recipe. Mix 50ml of organic almond oil (or sunflower is even cheaper) and 10-20 drops of lavender essential oil together and store in an amber bottle to protect the oils from light.
How do you use aromatherapy massage during labour?
The back and legs are the most painful areas during labour, so these are the areas to focus on. There are no set rules but the method for the studies was generally to start every hour of labour with 15 minutes of massage to the back and legs. You want the massage to be light and gentle, and it needs to feel pleasurable.
If your loved one has been massaging you throughout pregnancy this will feel completely natural, rather than something new on the day.
Remember to breathe deep and enjoy the scent.
Like all things in pregnancy, always discuss your massage plans first with your primary care provider.
Next week, we'll explore the research into aromatherapy and breastfeeding, and how massage may help keep the milk flowing. Until then, take good care of yourself. 💖
Here at Everkind, we think you shouldn’t have to choose between your wellbeing and what works. We’ve carefully made our range of all-natural bodycare to work as well as – if not better than – their synthetic counterparts, without compromising on using quality certified organic ingredients. To find out more, shop the Everkind range, or get in touch with the team.
In her pre-mum life Amanda-Jane was an environmental lawyer. When her children were little she and her family moved to the country in a market gardening area, where they experienced first-hand the toxic impact of conventional horticulture on groundwater, land and personal health. This experience launched her on a journey to restore her family's health and find practical, truly natural solutions for everyday needs. Amanda-Jane became the founder and creator of Everkind - a body care brand strongly committed to providing body kind, people kind, planet kind essentials that work.
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