Women's perceptions and experiences of a traumatic birth: a meta-ethnography

J Adv Nurs. 2010 Oct;66(10):2142-53. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2648.2010.05391.x. Epub 2010 Jul 16.


Aim: This study presents the findings a meta-ethnographic study reporting women's perceptions and experiences of traumatic birth.

Background: Childbirth is viewed by many as a life transition that can bring a sense of accomplishment. However, for some women, birth is experienced as a traumatic event with a minority experiencing post-traumatic stress. A traumatic birth experience can have a significant impact on the physical and emotional well-being of a woman, her infant and family.

Data source: The CINAHL, MEDLINE, Scopus and PubMed databases were searched for the period January 1994 to October 2009 using the keywords birth trauma, traumatic birth, qualitative research, birth narrative and birth stories.

Review methods: A meta-ethnographic approach was used. Quality appraisal was carried out. An index paper served as a guide in identifying particular findings and comparing them with other findings. This 'reciprocal translation' process started with a search for common themes, phrases and metaphors.

Results: Ten qualitative studies were included in the final sample. Six major themes were identified: 'feeling invisible and out of control', 'to be treated humanely', 'feeling trapped: the reoccurring nightmare of my childbirth experience', 'a rollercoaster of emotions', 'disrupted relationships' and 'strength of purpose: a way to succeed as a mother'.

Conclusions: It is evident that a small percentage of women experience a traumatic birth. Although some women who experience a traumatic birth do not necessarily have physical or psychological adverse outcomes, others identify a significant personal impact. Healthcare professionals must recognize women's need to be involved in decision-making and to be fully informed about all aspects of their labour and birth to increase their sense of control.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Australia
  • Breast Feeding / psychology
  • Coitus / psychology
  • Decision Making
  • Delivery, Obstetric / adverse effects
  • Delivery, Obstetric / psychology*
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Middle Aged
  • Mother-Child Relations
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Obstetric Labor Complications / psychology
  • Parturition / psychology*
  • Power, Psychological
  • Pregnancy
  • Professional-Patient Relations
  • Qualitative Research
  • Risk Factors
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology*
  • United Kingdom
  • Young Adult