PTSD from a traumatic birth?
December 15, 2008 4:04 PM   Subscribe

Is there any evidence that a particularly traumatic birth may have a long-lasting negative effect on a person?

Specifically, is there any evidence (scientific or anecdotal) that shows a higher incidence of fear of choking or fear of being unable to breathe or even a higher incidence of generalized anxiety in children or adults who had the umbilical cord wrapped around their necks at birth, compared to those who were born under less traumatic circumstances?

I'm not suggesting, of course, that anyone would remember the feeling of having the cord wrapped around his neck. I'm just wondering if, subconsciously, that sort of trauma can remain with a person and influence the person they become.
posted by amro to Grab Bag (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I have had anxiety disorder since I was a little kid, and by checking my medical records one psychiatrist found out I had a traumatic birth which included the use of a forceps to pull me out. He said this contributes significantly to the disorder, though he didn't explain it in more details.
posted by dcrocha at 4:11 PM on December 15, 2008

Purely anecdotal, but I had a rough birth with forceps because of the cord around my neck. I don't have anxiety disorders but I can't stand to have much of anything over or around my face because I immediately feel suffocated. And until this moment, I never made a connection between the two.
posted by kimdog at 4:19 PM on December 15, 2008

More anecdata: I was a forceps baby, and the labor was more than 30 hours. I have garden-variety idiosyncrasies, but no anxiety disorders, fear of being choked or of choking, etc.
posted by rtha at 4:24 PM on December 15, 2008

Stanislov Grof is the guy you want to read. He claims his anecdotes are scientific. He has this DVD with a T group doing time regression hypnotherapy which is wild.
posted by bukvich at 4:26 PM on December 15, 2008

I was also a forceps baby. The only thing they did was leave a small dent on my skull. No emotional scars, but like you said, it could be a higher incident. Still, as a newborn, I don't think such an incident would stay with a person throughout their life since the baby's brain is still making new pathways, meaning that the the first few days after birth will be totally overwritten/forgotten after a couple of months.

This is just a theory though. My level brain-related knowledge consists of perhaps one or two science related college course. I'm by no ways a specialist.
posted by nikkorizz at 4:28 PM on December 15, 2008

Yet more anecdata, rtha and I could be twins - same birth circumstances and same lack of major issues.
posted by gudrun at 4:54 PM on December 15, 2008

Yet more anecdata: My mother often says the births of my brother and I are completely similar to the easiness with which we were raised.

My brother was a pain in the ass birth. 3 days. Tons of problems. The doctor said "basically he's trying to make this difficult." He is the ultimate pain in the ass of a person too and is extremely egocentric, difficult, time-consuming (yours), and gets along awful with our mom.

I was such an easy birth they couldn't even get me into a hospital room and did it right there in the hallway. I tend to be extremely easy going and relaxed. I have no anxieties I can think of and my mom and I get along great.
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 5:08 PM on December 15, 2008

Jumping back in to elaborate on the anecdata, my father was just about born on the hospital steps, it was that quick. He is in no way an easy-going kind of guy.

My birth was so difficult and went on so long that at one point the doctor came out to my father and said (and this is pretty much a direct quote), Mr. gudrun, I don't know what to do. Fortunately another doctor came on duty who did know what she was doing, her name was Gudrun, which is one of the reasons I use it as a nickname. Again, whatever issues I may have, I firmly believe are probably genetic, as they tend to occur in both sides of the family in multiple generations.
posted by gudrun at 5:25 PM on December 15, 2008

To add to the anecdotes, my brother had a very difficult birth and I had a very easy birth. My brother is very easy-going and I am emotional and sometimes high-strung. Anecdotes like the ones above don't really mean anything.
posted by muddgirl at 5:42 PM on December 15, 2008

I had a very traumatic birth with the cord wrapped around my neck so badly that it took the doctors quite some time to get me breathing. (I was tested for cognitive impairment and other brain issues routinely in my first few years due to this.) I'm just fine.
posted by meerkatty at 5:49 PM on December 15, 2008

I had a forceps birth, and I am a very easygoing person.
posted by exceptinsects at 6:49 PM on December 15, 2008

Aside from the personality trait issue, some kinds of trauma during birth (and, in fairness, at other times too) can result in lifelong disabilities, like cerebral palsy.
posted by Sublimity at 8:20 PM on December 15, 2008

I can't offer a citation right now, but I recall seeing something about a link between difficult births and certain disorders. You might be looking for causality in the wrong direction. It's not necessarily that a difficult birth is more likely to produce people with certain types of mental disorder; it's that the genetics associated with those disorders are also likely to result in complicated pregnancies and births.

Sublimity's comment is related in the opposite direction. Certain types of birth trauma can result in neurological damage. It's not inconceivable that forceps or a cord around the neck might do it in some cases.

As far as specific PTSD goes, though, think about this: we circumsize a lot of male babies. Do the circumsized ones all grow up with traumatic flashbacks and a secret fear of having their dingles cut off, while the uncircumsized ones don't? No.

But. There have been a couple of studies that suggest a more generalized effect on the nervous system from severe pain or traumatic injury inflicted on an infant without anesthetic. We're not just talking about circumcision here; full surgical procedures without anesthetic have been done on premature infants at times because their nervous systems were thought to be too immature to process pain. Some studies indicate that these babies on average later on appear to be more pain-sensitive as a whole and to cry longer in response to stresses. They don't grow up with long-buried memories of being cut into, but the early severe stresses they experienced seem to have longlasting effects on feedback from the brain and nervous system. Someone with a better memory than I have can dig up a few articles. It's an unsettled question, though.
posted by jeeves at 10:00 PM on December 15, 2008

I can only speak for my own experience as well, since I don't have knowledge of any scientific evidence, but I have always gotten slightly panicky if I have anything over my head or face. For example, as a child I never wore masks for Halloween, and as an adult if I so much as feel a blanket over my face I feel like I can't breathe. When my mom realized that I had those issues, she told me that during birth I got stuck in the birth canal and had to be taken out via emergency c-section. So if I do have lasting effects they have manifested themselves in a pretty specific way, rather than coloring my personality as a whole.

Although come to think of it, I do tend to feel smothered sometimes when I feel people in my life are wanting more than I want to give (which has complicated relationships in the past)...and "smothered" is definitely the first word that always comes to mind when I am in that situation. So who knows, maybe it did affect me in more abstract ways.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 10:02 PM on December 15, 2008

I just did some searching, and it seems there is a reasonably well-established connection between birth complications and schizophrenia. It doesn't seem like there's any established connection with other disorders.

So basically, no. (Unless you have risk factors for schizophrenia, in which case birth complications might help that actually develop.)
posted by parudox at 10:48 AM on December 16, 2008

You know, my comment was deleted because I think it was thought to be a joke but-- it's true that I was born with the cord around my neck, it's true that I have always hated turtlenecks, and it's true that I think this sort of anecdotal evidence always snowballs into confirmation bias (and that it would be humorous and ridiculous to connect my unfortunate delivery with my sartorial preferences).
posted by availablelight at 3:30 PM on December 16, 2008

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