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PTSD and traumatic childbirth.

View profile for Kim Daniells
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A successful birth is a satisfying occasion for the medical staff involved, the majority of whom care deeply for the welfare of the mothers and babies in their care and who find assisting them at a crucial time to be very rewarding.

Unfortunately, things don’t always go to plan. Birth can prove to be a traumatic and frightening experience. Most of the medical research and the stories in the media focus on the impact of traumatic births on mothers. However, there can be real, long lasting effects on those who witness a traumatic birth as well.

A British Medical Journal (“BMJ”) study in 2015, found that one third of midwives experience post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) after working on a traumatic birth. Of the 464 participants in the study, 421 had experienced working on a traumatic birth. This equates to an average of seven traumatic events for each midwife. These incidents had a long term impact on both the professional and personal lives of the midwives involved. It also impacted heavily upon the effective service delivery in the hospitals where they worked. Participants reported experiencing common PTSD symptoms including nightmares, hearing screaming in their sleep and constantly worrying about the care they had provided to the patient. 35% of participants had seriously considered leaving the midwifery profession after experiencing a traumatic birth event and 12% had to take time off work as a consequence.

By law, an employer is under a duty to take reasonable care of their employee’s health and safety in the course of their employment. This includes providing a safe system of work, adequate equipment and even things like health checks for employees. If an NHS Trust or a private medical provider fails in this duty of care towards their staff, then they may be liable to pay compensation to their employees. In an overstretched maternity unit, poor communication between doctors and midwives or a failure by the NHS Trust to provide adequate equipment can all contribute to a traumatic birth and the long term effects of PTSD on the medical professionals who are left to deal with the fall out of a traumatic birth, long after the baby is actually born.

The effects of PTSD experienced by other professions in other workplaces, such as military personnel in a combat zone, is thankfully now increasingly recognised and well-documented. But it is important to recognise that PTSD can affect staff who work in any traumatic situation and that this can include events which take place in the maternity unit of a hospital.

Medical staff who have experienced these situations should not suffer in silence and accept what has happened as “just part of the job.” Help is out there for those who need it, not only for mothers who have experienced a traumatic birth, but for those who witness it as well.