Responses to birth trauma and prevalence of posttraumatic stress among Australian midwives

Julia Leinweber, Debra K. Creedy, Heather Rowe, Jenny Gamble

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

82 Citations (Scopus)


Background Midwives frequently witness traumatic birth events. Little is known about responses to birth trauma and prevalence of posttraumatic stress among Australian midwives. Aim To assess exposure to different types of birth trauma, peritraumatic reactions and prevalence of posttraumatic stress. Methods Members of the Australian College of Midwives completed an online survey. A standardised measure assessed posttraumatic stress symptoms. Findings More than two-thirds of midwives (67.2%) reported having witnessed a traumatic birth event that included interpersonal care-related trauma features. Midwives recalled strong emotions during or shortly after witnessing the traumatic birth event, such as feelings of horror (74.8%) and guilt (65.3%) about what happened to the woman. Midwives who witnessed birth trauma that included care-related features were significantly more likely to recall peritraumatic distress including feelings of horror (OR = 3.89, 95% CI [2.71, 5.59]) and guilt (OR = 1.90, 95% CI [1.36, 2.65]) than midwives who witnessed non-interpersonal birth trauma. 17% of midwives met criteria for probable posttraumatic stress disorder (95% CI [14.2, 20.0]). Witnessing abusive care was associated with more severe posttraumatic stress than other types of trauma. Discussion Witnessing care-related birth trauma was common. Midwives experience strong emotional reactions in response to witnessing birth trauma, in particular, care-related birth trauma. Almost one-fifth of midwives met criteria for probable posttraumatic stress disorder. Conclusion Midwives carry a high psychological burden related to witnessing birth trauma. Posttraumatic stress should be acknowledged as an occupational stress for midwives. The incidence of traumatic birth events experienced by women and witnessed by midwives needs to be reduced.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)40-45
Number of pages6
JournalWomen and Birth
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2017


  • Midwives
  • Obstetric violence
  • Occupational health
  • Peritraumatic distress
  • Posttraumatic stress

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