Subsequent childbirth after previous traumatic birth experience: women's choices and evaluations

02 August 2020
15 min read
Volume 28 · Issue 8

Abstract

Background

After a traumatic childbirth experience, women are often afraid of future pregnancies, and may be at risk for also experiencing their subsequent childbirth as traumatic.

Aims

Two questions were investigated regarding women's experience of their subsequent childbirth after a previous traumatic birth: (1) which factors in the previous traumatic birth are associated with the subsequent childbirth experience, and (2) fear of childbirth and coping behaviour during the subsequent pregnancy associated with the subsequent birth experience.

Methods

A total 474 Dutch women (mean age during traumatic childbirth=28.9 years; SD=3.9) answered an online survey about their previous traumatic and subsequent birth experience.

Findings

Making a birth plan, choosing a home birth in a high-risk pregnancy, and having a planned caesarean section emerged as statistically significant correlates of positive subsequent birth experience.

Conclusion

Experiencing control over the subsequent birth might underlie practices associated with more positive subsequent childbirth experience among women with a traumatic childbirth history.

A sizable minority (10%–20%) of women describe their childbirth as a traumatic experience and have long-lasting negative memories of it (Olde et al, 2005; Bossano et al, 2017; Rijnders, 2011; Stramrood et al, 2011). Still, many women choose to give birth again. Previous research has aimed to understand what women actually mean by a traumatic childbirth experience. Answers include, for example, feeling neglected and experiencing loss of control during the birth, fear for their own or their baby's life, and a bad outcome (Beck, 2004; Thomson and Downe, 2008; Elmir et al, 2010; Henriksen et al, 2017; Hollander et al, 2017b). Traumatic birth experiences are therefore highly personal and subjective (Beck, 2004; Stramrood and Slade, 2017), meaning that a birth that seems normal and straightforward to a provider may be experienced as traumatic by the woman (Thomson and Downe, 2008).

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