Understanding psychological traumatic birth experiences: A literature review

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Women and Birth, 2016, 29 (3), pp. 203 - 207
Issue Date:
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© 2015 Australian College of Midwives. Background: Traumatic birth experiences can cause postnatal mental health disturbance, fear of childbirth in subsequent pregnancies and disruption to mother-infant bonding, leading to impaired child development. Some women may develop postnatal Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which is a particularly undesirable outcome. This paper aimed to gain a better understanding of factors contributing to birth trauma, and the efficacy of interventions that exist in the literature. Methods: A literature search was undertaken in April 2015. Articles were limited to systematic reviews or original research of either high to moderate scientific quality. A total of 21 articles were included in this literature review. Findings: Women with previous mental health disorders were more prone to experiencing birth as a traumatic event. Other risk factors included obstetric emergencies and neonatal complications. Poor Quality of Provider Interactions was identified as a major risk factor for experiencing birth trauma. Evidence is inconclusive on the best treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; however midwifery-led antenatal and postnatal interventions, such as early identification of risk factors for birth trauma and postnatal counselling showed benefit. Conclusion: Risk factors for birth trauma need to be addressed prior to birth. Consideration needs to be taken regarding quality provider interactions and education for maternity care providers on the value of positive interactions with women. Further research is required into the benefits of early identification of risk factors for birth trauma, improving Quality of Provider Interactions and how midwifery-led interventions and continuity of midwifery carer models could help reduce the number of women experiencing birth trauma.
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