Childbirth Clinicians May Experience Secondary Trauma

Doctor sitting alone in hallway with head downTraumatic childbirth experiences—which may severely injure or kill the mother or baby—can cause midwives and obstetricians to experience signs of secondary trauma, according to a study published in Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica. Clinicians who attended traumatic childbirths also reported the experience made them more effective care providers.

According to Prevention and Treatment of Traumatic Childbirth, traumatic birth experiences are common, with 25-34% of women labeling their birth experiences traumatic. Estimates of the impact these experiences have on women vary, but a 2013 Iranian study found 17.2% of 600 studied women had symptoms of posttraumatic stress (PTSD) after childbirth.

How Birth Trauma Affects Clinicians

Researchers from the University of Southern Denmark surveyed Danish midwives and obstetricians, receiving responses from a total of 1,237 professionals. Eighty-five percent reported attending at least one traumatic childbirth, during which either the mother or baby died or suffered serious injuries.

Clinicians reported fearing blame from mothers, other clinicians, and legal authorities. More prevalent was their self-blame—even when the traumatic outcome was unavoidable. Eighty-seven percent felt upset about the experience for a long time after it occurred, and 49% experienced guilt. Thirty-six percent agreed with the statement, “I will always feel some sort of guilt when thinking about the event.”

Some clinicians also derived meaning and inspiration from traumatic birthing experiences. Fifty percent said their experiences caused them to contemplate the meaning of life, and 65% believed these experiences made them better clinicians.

Secondary Trauma in Clinicians

The effects held no matter how long it had been since the event, suggesting traumatic births can have significant and long-lasting effects on clinicians. However, only 59% of the clinicians surveyed responded to the survey. It is possible only those who had the strongest feelings or memories of traumatic births responded, potentially skewing the results.

The study’s authors say their research points to the need for more support for clinicians who have attended or been involved with traumatic childbirths.


  1. Brazier, Y. (2016, April 11). Clinicians experience trauma when childbirth goes wrong. Retrieved from
  2. Research uncovers the effects of traumatic childbirth on midwives and obstetricians. (2016, April 11). Retrieved from
  3. Shaban, Z., Dolatian, M., Shams, J., Alavi-Majd, H., Mahmoodi, Z., & Sajjadi, H. (2013). Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following childbirth: Prevalence and contributing factors. Iranian Red Crescent Medical Journal, 15(3), 177-82. doi:10.5812/ircmj.2312
  4. Simkin, P. (n.d.). Birth trauma: Definition and statistics. Retrieved from

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  • Jo

    April 11th, 2016 at 12:24 PM

    So sad because u know that in most of these instances things would have probably gone exactly the same no matter who delivers the baby. Sometimes there is no rhyme or reason for things, they sadly just happen. U can’t beat yourself up over things that are beyond your control

  • Evie

    April 11th, 2016 at 3:50 PM

    I am thinking that pretty much any type of provider who either loses a patient or sees that there is risk and danger involved with a particular case could feel this kind of fear and trauma afterwards. I know that many of us only think about the upsides to these jobs but the downsides can be downright terrifying.

  • barton

    April 12th, 2016 at 10:35 AM

    It must be difficult being a line of work where one s mall thing can mean the difference between a happy family and one that is heartbroken. I can definitely see how being involved with this kind of experience in any kind of way could make a very strong impact on a person.

  • ADA

    April 13th, 2016 at 11:44 AM

    Any of us could probably relate to this. If you do something that you enjoy but then you fail at it one time, or have a bad experience then there is a good chance that you will not necessarily wish to try it again.

  • Chapman

    April 14th, 2016 at 1:56 PM

    I would never imply that this kind of job would be easy, but they know going in that this could be a high risk profession and so I think that many of them are prepared for the losses and the trauma that they could encounter along the way. It would never make that kind of loss easy but it does help when you always have in the back of your mind that this could be a possibility. I think that this helps you to be more alert and prepared for what could always happen.

  • angela

    April 16th, 2016 at 3:12 PM

    We all like to think that giving birth is pretty safe, and for many countries it is. But there are still millions of women in countries around the world who lack the access to proper care while pregnant and therefore giving birth can always cause more health risks than what we usually assume in this day and age. And even in the best of situations something can always go wrong for the mother or the provider and you just have to hope that in the end it all turns out well.

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