How Childhood Sexual Abuse Affects Pregnancy and Birth

penny simkin, phyllis klaus, DONA founders, book by penny simkin, sexual assault survivors, birth and child abuse, pregnancy and child abuse, sexual abuseThe important and powerful work of Penny Simkin and Phyllis Klaus on how childhood sexual abuse affects pregnancy and childbirth has shined a light on this dark topic. These incredible women (both founders of DONA International) have raised their voices as well as awareness and understanding around this issue.

The book When Survivors Give Birth is directed at survivors, their families, doctors, midwives, nurses, medical staff and other birth professionals like childbirth educators and doulas, to educate on how childhood sexual abuse affects pregnancy and birth.

Survivors can benefit from the information throughout, but particularly with Chapter 9, called “Self-Help Methods to Prevent and Manage Distress During Childbirth.” The chapter opens with this: “Anxiety, fright, panic, uncertainty, helplessness, inability to act, and distrust can catch the survivor unaware and throw her into distress and despair. Other people perceive her reactions as inappropriate and exaggerated.  This chapter offers a variety of self-help techniques to recognize and allay these automatic reactions, or to prevent them in the first place.”

Whether or not a mom discloses any prior abuse to providers, doulas, midwives or anyone in her birthing circle, birth professionals must be prepared and sensitive to the challenges survivors face in pregnancy and birth. Click here for a video of Penny talking about When Survivors Give Birth.

Estimates are that between one in four and one in three women have a history of childhood sexual abuse. This number is likely higher as childhood sexual assault is under reported.

Your birth experience matters; survivors, and all birthing women, are wise to seek out and surround themselves with caring, sensitive providers.DONA founders, Annie Kennedy, Penny Simkin image, Phyllis Klaus, DONA conference, DONA Cancun, sexual trauma and childbirth, sexual abuse and birth, how sexual abuse affects pregnancy

Regular Mother’s Circle readers (thank you!) know that I believe in empowerment through knowledge and awareness. I believe in grabbing hold and owning your birth. For survivors of childhood sexual abuse, perhaps this is even more important advice. To be aware of some of the potential emotional, physical, medical, sexual, social and psychological responses you may experience is a first step in protecting yourself from a birth experience that feels like another violation. Understanding possible personal triggers can help empower you to decline or request certain procedures during your pregnancy and birth. Your experience will be more positive if you feel that you’ve made the decisions and calls along the birth path versus feeling like things were done to you.

when survivors give birth, penny simkin book, sexual abuse and pregnancyA study published in Breastfeeding Medicine in February 2013 shows that new mothers with a history of sexual assault had more sleep disturbances and increased risk for depression. However, breastfeeding Moms had a lower risk than those who were formula feeding or mixed feeding (some combination of breastmilk and formula). Read the abstract here.

I highly recommend this book to any survivor of childhood sexual abuse, an additional resource is PATTCh.org which stands for Prevention and Treatment of Traumatic Birth. PATTCh is a collective of birth and mental health experts dedicated to the prevention and treatment of traumatic childbirth.

© Copyright Leah DeCesare 2014

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2 Responses to How Childhood Sexual Abuse Affects Pregnancy and Birth

  1. Shayla says:

    I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse (incest), two counts of sexual assault by two different men on two other separate, tragic occasions as well as date rape at 15 and finally married for ten years to a porn addicted and disgusting man who violated me on many occasions and made motherhood even more difficult for me.

    For me, personally, breastfeeding was a HUGE trigger for me and it did not help that I attempted to explain this to the lactation ladies who were so hell bent on pushing me through it that I fell into a deep depression and felt crazy. I had zero support from my obstetrician and staff as well.

    Breastfeeding can be a very big trigger and incredibly difficult to a survivor. I worked in pediatrics for more than 15 years and I do understand the importance benefits of breastfeeding, however no mother should be made to feel guilty or pressed to breast feed.

    As it turns out, I have low iron and very high metabolism and IBS. Both my breastfed children were far more unhealthy and underweight than my one who was never breastfed. I was not able to increase my food intake any more than I already had and my body doesn’t absorb fat from foods due to my IBS. Medications are harmful to me and especially would have been to a nursing infant.

    I fired my first obstetrician and found a bit more comfort in his colleagues and midwife with my second and third pregnancies. Of course this was 17-20 years ago…so I hope each have made strides to improve their knowledge and ability to accurately work with CSA survivors.

    Again, I wanted to stress that breastfeeding may very well be a much larger issue for some than others and felt your post a bit misleading and not showing sensitivity to this as much as it should.

    I was in constant turmoil each time I nursed and that ripped at my heart and soul as a mother that I couldn’t bond with my child as other mothers did due to my PTSD from CSA.

    • ldecesare says:

      Thank you so much for sharing this – it is incredibly important for all providers in birth and postpartum to be sensitive and non-judgmental in their care. Every woman has the right to make her own choices that are best for her family without being made to feel bad or guilty about them. Loving support in all things makes a difference!
      My prayer and hopes for you are that you’ve found some peace and experience healthy, healing relationships with people who give you the love you deserve.

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