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Midwives often experience ‘self-blame and guilt’ after traumatic birth

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When complications arise in the delivery room that lead to traumatic childbirth, clinicians providing care may feel upset and experience secondary traumatic stress, according to a Danish study.

Feelings of blame and guilt dominate when midwives and obstetricians struggle to cope with the aftermath of a traumatic childbirth, said researchers in the journal Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica.

“Self-blame and guilt appear to dominate when midwives and obstetricians struggle to cope”

Katja Schrøder

However, they added that such events also made maternity staff think more about the meaning of life and helped them become better at their role.

To get a sense of how traumatic childbirth impacted on healthcare professionals, both in terms of mental health and their professional and personal identities, researchers asked Danish obstetricians and midwives to complete a survey and participate in interviews.

A total of 1,237 responded, of which 85% stated that they had been involved in a traumatic childbirth, where the infant or the mother suffered severe and possibly fatal injuries.

Although blame from patients, peers, or official authorities was feared, inner struggles with guilt and existential considerations were more prominent, said the researchers from the University of Southern Denmark.

Feelings of guilt were reported by 49% of respondents, while 50% agreed that the traumatic childbirth had made them think more about the meaning of life. In addition, 65% felt that they had become a better midwife or doctor due to the traumatic incident.

The findings may be helpful for efforts aimed at providing adequate support to healthcare professionals in the aftermath of traumatic childbirth, noted the study authors.

Lead author Katja Schrøder said: “To our knowledge, this is the largest study to investigate obstetric healthcare professionals’ experiences with traumatic childbirth.

University of Southern Denmark

Traumatic childbirth places stress on midwives

Katja Schrøder

“Self-blame and guilt appear to dominate when midwives and obstetricians struggle to cope with the aftermath of a traumatic childbirth, which was a consistent finding regardless of time since the event,” said Ms Schrøder.

“This could indicate that, although the current patient safety programmes have promoted a more just and learning culture with less blaming and shaming after adverse events, the personal feeling of guilt remains a burden for the individual healthcare professional,” she said.

She added that existential considerations, such as thinking more about life and experiencing emotional or spiritual development, have not previously been investigated in this context.

They seem to play a profound role in the aftermath of these events, she noted.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Yes a good debriefing process is essential to cope with such a life altering experience.

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