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Understanding the Long-Term Effects of Traumatic Birth on Attachment Styles

The impacts a traumatic birth can have on the relationship between mother and child is a topic of research which is still developing and in need of continued discovery. Although it is a moment none of us remember, the impact of a traumatic birth can last a lifetime. John Bowlby, a well-known psychoanalyst who developed the theory of attachment, found that attachment is innate and if not met, the child reacts accordingly through crying or calling for their parent. If there is a disconnect, there is a higher chance of insecure attachment between mother and infant.


The Impact of a Negative Birth Experience

The bonding and attachment experience between mother and infant is influenced from pregnancy until the very moment the baby has been delivered. The mother’s birthing experience has a direct impact on the attachment she forms with her child, and negative birthing experiences are associated with higher insecure anxious attachment styles. In addition, negative birth memories are connected to increased risk of postpartum depression or postpartum PTSD, which also affects the attachment between mother and child. 


While childbirth is often associated with feelings of happiness and joy, there is a large population of women who consider this a traumatic time. It has been found that women who experience traumatic births, often feel more disconnected from their infants and tend to question their parental capabilities. Women who undergo traumatic births are also at higher risk of developing health anxiety, which can create feelings of isolation and further distancing from the emotional bonding experience imperative during the beginning stages of parenthood and child development.


attachment at birth

Perinatal Mental Health (PNMH) and the Impact between Mother and Child

Perinatal mental health is a spectrum of different conditions which can affect individuals during pregnancy and postpartum. Postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, and postpartum psychosis are some of the more common conditions of PNMH. These conditions are often developed after experiencing a traumatic birth. Infancy is a crucial time for brain development, and the bonding experience with the mother plays a major role during this stage of development. Traumatic births such as cesarean births, vaginal births with intervention, and high pain levels during delivery can cause a negative birth experience for the mother and these negative experiences can impact the attachment with both mother and child. 


Impact on the Child

The impact that a traumatic birth has on the child can shape the development and course of their life. Traumatic births can cause a myriad of challenges for the child, such as emotional health, mental health, personality, self-esteem, emotional stability, and learning capacity. In their later life, these early traumas can also cause an increased risk of suicidality and create barriers for relationship formation. It is important for both mother and child to seek professional help, in order to address and resolve these early traumas that can create a lifetime of challenges.  Interventions that address attachment and early developmental trauma can be helpful.


References:

Bekmezci, E. (2022). The relationship between mothers’ birth memories and attachment styles. Journal of Psychiatric Nursing. https://doi.org/10.14744/phd.2022.65982


Molloy, E., Biggerstaff, D. L., & Sidebotham, P. (2021). A phenomenological exploration of parenting after birth trauma: mothers perceptions of the first year. Women and Birth, 34(3), 278–287. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wombi.2020.03.004


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