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The Perceived Impact of Birth Trauma Witnessed by Maternity Health Professionals: A Systematic Review

Uddin, N. ORCID: 0000-0003-0518-7989, Ayers, S. ORCID: 0000-0002-6153-2460, Khine, R. & Webb, R. ORCID: 0000-0002-8862-6491 (2022). The Perceived Impact of Birth Trauma Witnessed by Maternity Health Professionals: A Systematic Review. Midwifery, 114, article number 103460. doi: 10.1016/j.midw.2022.103460


Maternity health professionals (MHPs) caring for women may witness or be involved in traumatic births. This can be associated with MHPs experiencing secondary traumatic stress (STS) or probable post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which may impact MHPs emotionally and physically. The aims of this review were therefore to determine: (i) the prevalence of STS and PTSD in maternity health professionals; and (ii) the impact of witnessing birth trauma on maternity health professionals.

A mixed-methods systematic review was carried out by conducting literature searches on CINAHL, MEDLINE, PsychARTICLES, PsychINFO and PsychTESTS databases. Searches were conducted from the inception of databases up to February 2022 using search terms on MHPs and birth trauma combined. Methodological quality and bias were assessed. Data were synthesised using thematic synthesis.

A total of 18 studies were included in the review. Sample size ranged from 9-2,165 (total N =8,630). Participants included midwives, nurses and obstetricians aged 18-77 years. Many MHPs had witnessed a traumatic birth event (45% - 96.9%) with the prevalence of STS ranging from 12.6%-38.7% and the proportion of participants meeting diagnostic criteria for PTSD ranging from 3.1%-46%. MHPs reported positive and negative effects associated with witnessing traumatic birth events. Synthesis of quantitative and qualitative papers identified five themes: Negative emotions and symptoms; Responsibility and regret; Impact on practice and care; Challenging professional identity; and Team support being essential.

Witnessing traumatic birth events is associated with profound emotional and physical impacts on MHPs, signifying the importance of acknowledging and addressing this in the maternity workforce.
It is important to raise awareness of the impact of birth trauma on MHPs. Effective education and training guidelines, a supervisory network, ways to change practice and policy, and support and treatment should be provided to assist and improve the outcomes and work-life of MHPs’ who witness traumatic births.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This article has been published in Midwifery by Elsevier under a CC-BY 4.0 licence
Publisher Keywords: Birth trauma, Maternity, Health professionals, PTSD, Secondary traumatic stress, mixed-methods systematic review
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
R Medicine > RG Gynecology and obstetrics
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Midwifery & Radiography
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