Midwives at risk of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Julia Leinweber

The midwifery profession is at risk of increasing levels of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), according to new research from Griffith University this week.

Astudy published in Women and Birthfoundalmost a fifth ofthe midwives surveyed met the criteria for probable PTSD as laid out by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, edition 4.

The national study was conducted across all types of healthcare settings and surveyeda total of 707 midwives with questions relating to their midwifery care and how they perceive themselves during traumatic birth events.

“We asked a very broad range of questions to these midwives, as we wanted to get a sense of their feelings of competence during what can be very stressful moments,” says Julia Leinweber from the Menzies Health Institute Queensland.

“Events that midwives may encounter in their day-to-day lives may include for example, the death or injury of a mother or baby during birth, abusive care by family members or simply care that is not undertaken in a very sensitive way.

Risk of stress in birth setting

“Midwives, unfortunately often say that they feel powerless to intervene to change the way care is provided by other healthcare providers, or they may feel pressured to make a decision by another professional.

“Alternatively they may feel that the mother’s expressed wishes are overridden by organisational requirements of the hospital during the birth. If a midwife feels that she can’t do anything about these situations, then these can produce feelings of stress, which can escalate.

“There is growing evidence that exposure to birth trauma places midwives at risk of PTSD which can increase perceptions of risk and affect midwives’ beliefs in the normality of childbirth.

“There is also the knock-on effect of workforce retention issues.”

Ms Leinweber says there needs to be more awareness of trauma in the birth setting.

“Health care organisations at the primary level need to be more supportive of the risks of stress in the birth setting and provide an environment for midwives that enforces trauma informed care and practice.”