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NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors

Perinatal Psychology and Refugee Trauma: Clinical Implications of the Impact of the Mother’s Experiences on the Unborn Baby

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Dr Jennifer Fenwick
Clinical Midwifery Consultant
Gosford Hospital

Naila Hassan
Early Childhood Counsellor

Refugee women and their dependent children count for 80% of the world’s refugee population. The context of motherhood is frequently traumatic for refugee women; from conception to delivery and the neonatal period there are many vulnerable moments where trauma impacts on both mother and growing baby. While the most confronting trauma is rape that results in pregnancy, there are many other sources of trauma. This might be in the course of the chaos of war, refugee flight and resettlement but the birthing process is also traumatic for some women. Separations from family result in reduced support at times when most connection with attachment figures is needed. As the mother’s body is providing the care to the child (at symbolic and physiological levels), any stress the mother experiences can transfer to the child. If the type of stress is particularly traumatic, this can cause trauma to the growing foetus and baby. Trauma in utero is commonly caused by chaotic or unpredictable lifestyle factors including the mother’s exposure to war, domestic violence, lack of antenatal care, or substance misuse during pregnancy. In this Clinical Master Class, held on 10 November 2021, Dr Jennifer Fenwick shared her expertise on the implication of a mother’s traumatic experiences on the mother and  baby. Naila Hassan, STARTTS’ Early Childhood Counsellor, demonstrated STARTTS’ work using a case study of a woman who had experienced significant trauma during pregnancy and labour. She reflected on the impact of these experiences on the mother and the unborn child as well as on her work with the dyad.

View the two lectures and panel discussion by clicking on the course content below. When you are finished you can request the system send you a certificate of completion. The slide PDFs are available in the Materials tab.

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