Women's experiences of birth trauma: A scoping review

Kristy Watson, Colleen White, Helen Hall, Alana Hewitt

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

33 Citations (Scopus)


Background: A high number of Australian women report experiencing traumatic birth events. Despite high incidence and potential wide spread and long-lasting effects, birth trauma is poorly recognised and insufficiently treated. Birth trauma can trigger ongoing psychosocial symptoms for women, including anxiety, tokophobia, bonding difficulties, relationship issues and PTSD. Additionally, women's future fertility choices can be inhibited by birth trauma. Aim: To summarize the existing literature to provide insight into women's experiences of birth trauma unrelated to a specific pre-existing obstetric or contextual factor. Methods: The review follows 5 stages of Arksey and O'Malley's framework. 7 databases were searched using indexed terms and boolen operators. Data searching identified 1354 records, 5 studies met inclusion criteria. Findings: Three key themes emerged; (1) health care providers and the maternity care system. (2) Women's sense of knowing and control. (3) Support. Discussion: Continuity of carer creates the foundations for facilitative interactions between care provider and woman which increases the likelihood of a positive birth experience. Women are able to gain a sense of feeling informed and being in control when empowering and individualized care is offered. Functional social supports and forms of debriefing promotes psychological processing and can enable post traumatic growth. Conclusion: Existing literature highlights how birth trauma is strongly influenced by negative health care provider interactions and dysfunctional operation of the maternity care system. A lack of education and support limited informed decision-making, resulting in feelings of losing control and powerlessness which contributes to women's trauma. Insufficient support further compounds women's experiences.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)417-424
Number of pages8
JournalWomen and Birth
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2021


  • Birth
  • Birth trauma
  • Post-traumatic stress disorders
  • Scoping review
  • Trauma
  • Women

Cite this