Obstetric violence -- when childbirth is a trauma

A year ago, a study commissioned by a group of associations shed light on a little known issue: the negligence and disrespect experienced by many women in Italian delivery rooms.

Ingrid Colanicchia
Ingrid Colanicchia MicroMega, Italy
Source: MicroMega
Obstetric violence -- when childbirth is a trauma - NewsMavens
Pregnant woman, YouTube

Why this story matters:

A few years ago, the mother of a close friend told me a shocking story.

"When I gave birth to my first child, I was treated very badly by the doctor. I complained about the excruciating pain and he replied: 'But you didn't complain when you were conceiving this child.' I was 21 years old. Imagine how I felt."

The story is still shocking to me, but I now know this is not an isolated case.

Not only have I listened to the stories of my friends who gave birth in recent years, but I also followed the campaign Basta Tacere. Le Madri Hanno Voce (Enough -- Mothers Have a Voice). Launched a few years ago on Facebook, the initiative collected the spontaneous testimonies of women who had traumatic experiences during obstetric care.

The campaign also led to an investigation, and the results were not reassuring.

For 4 women out of 10 (41%) how they were treated during childbirth was detrimental to their dignity and psychophysical wellbeing; 27% said they felt only partially cared for by the medical team; and 21% had suffered some form of physical or verbal obstetric violence.

The data was contested by various associations of gynecologists and obstetricians, but numbers like these should at least lead to a reflection and follow-up investtigation by the National Health System.

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Details from the story:

  • According to the World Health Organization, many women throughout the world experience disrespectful, negligent or abusive treatment during delivery.
  • In April 2016, activists from various Italian associations launched a campaign collecting experiences of abuse and mistreatment.
  • In light of the results, a commission -- Osservatorio sulla Violenza Ostetrica (OVOItalia) -- was created .
  • In 2017, OVOItalia commissioned a national survey on women and childbirth. Based on 424 online interviews, the survey revealed the scale of the issue.
  • For 4 women out of 10 (41%) childbirth care was detrimental to their own physical and mental wellbeing. The episiotomy was viewed as a particularly traumatic experience, causing pain to over half (54%) of the mothers interviewed.
  • 27% said were only partially cared for by medical team.
  • 21% believe they had undergone some form of physical or verbal obstetric violence during the birth of their first child.
  • 27% complained about a lack of support and information about breastfeeding. 19% complained about a lack of confidentiality at various stages of their hospital stay.
  • 12% say they were denied the presence of a loved one during labor; 13% were not given adequate pain therapy.
  • The study appeared in the European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology, leading several associations of doctors to react. SIGO (the Italian Society of Gynecology and Obstetrics), AOGOI (the Association of Italian Obstetric and Gynecology Hospitals), AGUI (the Association of University Gynecology) and FNPO (the National Federation of the Obstetric Profession) wrote to the journal claiming that the inadequacies reported in the survey did not take place, and that it was dangerous to use the expression "obstetric violence" because it could damage the reputation of medical professionals as well as the image of the national health system.

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