How Sexual Trauma Can Impact Labor and Delivery

Being pregnant can bring up a complex range of emotions.

You may feel overwhelmed.














All feelings are valid.

These feelings manifest in different places in our bodies.

One of those places can be the pelvic floor.

This can make labor extra interesting. Especially if your pelvic floor might be harboring any kind of trauma.

This is something I see a lot clinically. Pelvic pain can often be a manifestation of complex emotions. Just like back pain or shoulder pain can be our body’s way of signaling emotional, rather than physical harm. Research has even noted that women with a type-A personality (* cough* me *cough) are more likely to have hypertonic, or tight pelvic floors. Tight pelvic floors can lead to a harder time for your body. They struggle to know how to “let go” and “open” when your baby starts to nudge their way down. 

You might not even know that tightness, emotion, or restriction has manifested until you're in labor.

I recently spoke to an internationally renowned midwife about this phenomenon. I asked her to identify the biggest challenge mothers face with labor, from her perspective. Her immediate response was something she called "Mama Trauma". Women with sexual trauma in their past were triggered by childbirth.  These feelings and memories create a reflexive guarding. As a result, a self-protective fear-based tightening in the pelvic floor. This response stalls and delays labor. 

I don't mention this so that you can have something else to worry about during your pregnancy. I write this article to encourage you to be proactive with your body’s preparation for birth... both physically and emotionally. 

If Mama Trauma has been on your mind… here are some resources that can help you prepare for your upcoming delivery. 

1. Emotion-Focused Therapy (EFT)

Certain councilors and therapists are certified in this technique. This technique is incredible and has helped so many women. It helps you articulate and communicate your emotions... both with yourself and with others. It does this in a way that validates everyone’s feelings.

I tend to be very conflict-avoidant. This sometimes holds me back from speaking my truth. The thought that something I say could make someone else feel upset gives me anxiety. It makes me feel like the energy I'd put into expressing myself may not even be worth it.

Yep, I’m still working on cultivating my inner strength.

But even simple bridge words like “Yes..AND…...” can be really helpful segways into standing up for yourself.

2. Read The Whole-Brained Child. 

This is one of my favorite books. The purpose is to help your child cultivate emotional intelligence by understanding their fears and validating their emotions. But it can also be a really helpful read for yourself too!

3. Understand Pain Science. 

Pain is ALWAYS generated from our brains out to our bodies. This is really important to know. Especially when approaching childbirth. Pain is designed to be an alert system. It gets us to pay attention. To take care of and protect ourselves.

Pain does NOT mean damage has occurred. Or that danger has already happened. This does not mean that there aren’t physical reasons our brains signal pain. When the baby comes out—they are pressing on nerves and bones in new ways. I love this video about pain science, from a world-leading expert.

We all have things in our past that made us feel ashamed, diminished, powerless, confused, or hurt. 

We’ve lived in a culture that hasn’t valued emotional intelligence. Or is even close to making women’s rights and multiculturalism a priority.

But somehow, someway, we are here.

Talking about the difficult relationships and experiences in your past helps. This can be with a professional counselor or a trusted friend. Sharing your story can help your brain store those experiences in meaningful ways... rather than stress-inducing ways.

Learning about our personal responses and reaction helps us build a sense of understanding, self-awareness, and resiliency.

Women are resilient.

You are resilient.


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