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An exploration of reasons why some women may leave the birth experience with emotional distress

02 January 2020
Volume 28 · Issue 1



Following birth, some women report negative and traumatic feelings. There is relatively little research on women's perceptions of these emotions. It is important to understand why some women experience distress following labour. The work presented in this paper focuses on one aspect of a wider mixed methods research study.


To explore reasons why some women may leave the birth experience with emotional distress.


A descriptive qualitative approach was used. A total of 16 semi-structured, qualitative interviews were undertaken. These were with women following birth, some of whom had attended a local birth reflections service. Thematic analysis was performed using typewritten transcripts.


Three key themes were identified which illuminated the topic of women's subjective distress: ‘giving birth as traumatic/horrific’, ‘lasting emotions linked to the birth process’ and ‘the impact of the health professional on women's experiences of giving birth’. As well as identifying how women are feeling following birth, this study has also highlighted how midwives can affect women's birth experience. It seems that trauma relating to the birth event may be mediated by professional behaviours and how supportive they are.


Lack of support by care professionals was a key factor associated with a negative birth experience. Maternity services and education providers need to ensure optimal training for all healthcare professionals who provide care to women during labour and birth.

Women use different terms to describe distress in relation to a poor childbirth experience. Whereas some women consider it as having been negative, others feel their birth was traumatic (Creedy et al, 2000; Hodnett, 2002; Soet et al, 2003; Ayers, 2004; Waldenstrom et al, 2004; Beck and Watson, 2010; Beck et al, 2011; Storksen et al, 2013). This can lead to adverse consequences, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Ayers, 1999; Creedy et al, 2000). Other poor consequences that have been recognised following a traumatic birth experience are poor maternal and infant bonding (Ayers et al, 2006), a reduction in breastfeeding rates (Beck and Watson, 2010) and fear of childbirth in future pregnancies (Storksen et al, 2013).

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