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Near-miss events in childbirth can have a long-lasting effect on women and their families.

Study finds mixed support available to women after traumatic birth
 The women we interviewed reported varying degrees of support from primary care, with some women and their families becoming isolated because they felt they could not share the experience with others – a challenge that was particularly relevant to new mothers. Knowing that proactive support was available from their GP team made a real difference.
- Dr Lisa Hinton, Health Experiences Research Group, University of Oxford.

Primary care teams should be made aware if a woman has had a traumatic birth so they can offer the support these women may need, finds a qualitative study into the long-term impact on women and their families of a life-threatening illness in pregnancy and childbirth.

Thought to affect around one in 100 UK women who give birth, life-threatening illnesses during childbirth (near misses) can have long-lasting and major effects on women and their families.

Published in the British Journal of General Practice, an in-depth interview study into the experiences of 36 women and 11 partners in England and Scotland demonstrated the impacts a near miss in childbirth can have on new mothers.

With physical recovery sometimes taking a long time, women were often not able to look after their babies as they wished in the early days.

Some women reported experiencing anxiety, panic attacks, flashbacks and post-traumatic stress disorder. Long-lasting emotional effects after discharge from hospital included fears about future fertility and pregnancies, social isolation, and lack of support.

Women’s experience of support from their primary care team was found to be varied. Some felt the support received from their local GP and health visitors was excellent, while others would have liked more support after such a traumatic time in hospital. Several women reported no communication between the hospital and their GP - who therefore seemed to have no idea what had happened.

Lead author, Dr Lisa Hinton, a senior qualitative researcher in the Health Experiences Research Group at the University of Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, said:

 “We found that women’s experiences of a near-miss in childbirth can have a profound impact on their relationships, family life, career and future fertility. The women we interviewed reported varying degrees of support from primary care, with some women and their families becoming isolated because they felt they could not share the experience with others – a challenge that was particularly relevant to new mothers. Knowing that proactive support was available from their GP team made a real difference.

“This was the first study of its kind, and while more research is needed in this area the results suggest that GPs and health visitors should generally be alert for mental health problems developing in women after a traumatic birth, and be prepared to offer reassurance and support to help them come to terms with their emergency experience.”

The research was funded by the National Institute for Health Research under its Programme Grants for Applied Research Programme (Grant Reference RP-PG-0608-10038).

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Healthtalk.org - Find out more about the experience of conditions that threaten women's lives in pregnancy and childbirth by seeing and hearing people share their personal stories on film.

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