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Guilt and blame dominate midwives’ thoughts after complications in childbirth

Problems in the delivery room may leave clinicians feeling upset or experiencing secondary traumatic stress, an investigation has concluded.

Problems in the delivery room may leave clinicians feeling upset or experiencing secondary traumatic stress, an investigation has concluded.

A study found that midwives and obstetricians struggle with feelings of blame and guilt in the aftermath of a traumatic birth. But such events also make them think about the meaning of life, helping them to become better practitioners.

Medical mistakes primarily affect patients and relatives, but healthcare professionals can also be profoundly distressed. When errors occur, even when problems are unavoidable, clinicians often feel personally responsible.

A team from the University of Southern Denmark asked 1,237 Danish obstetricians and midwives to complete a survey and participate in interviews.

Of the group, 85% had been involved in a traumatic birth, with infant or mother suffering potentially fatal injuries.

Feelings of guilt were reported by 49% of respondents, with 50% agreeing trauma had made them think more about the meaning of life, and 65% saying they had become a better midwife or doctor as a result.

‘Self-blame and guilt appear to dominate when midwives and obstetricians struggle to cope with the aftermath of a traumatic childbirth,’ said author Katja Schrøder.

Reference

Schrøder K et al (2016) Blame and guilt – a mixed methods study of obstetricians’ and midwives’ experiences and existential considerations after involvement in traumatic childbirth. Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica.

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