Research Shows 1 In 6 Moms Say They Were Mistreated During Childbirth

by Cassandra Stone
Originally Published: 

17% of women surveyed reported mistreatment by the medical community during childbirth

Childbirth is typically a highly memorable experience for those who have endured it, for myriad reasons. Not all of them are of the pleasant variety, unfortunately. A new survey shows one in six women in the United States believe they were mistreated during childbirth. The specific aspects of mistreatment reported by the women surveyed are distressing.

In the survey, published in the journal Reproductive Health, more than 2,000 women responded. Approximately 17 percent of them say they were yelled at, scolded, threatened, ignored, or denied some kind of help, or they’d experienced a combination of those things. Unfortunately but not surprisingly, women of color and low-income women were more likely to report they experienced mistreatment than white women.

“Global health experts agree that how people are treated during childbirth can affect the health and well-being of mother, child, and family,” the summary reports. In the study portion of the survey, the participants worked with researchers to genuinely capture their experiences of care during pregnancy and childbirth to ultimately define the types of mistreatment.

“I was surprised to find that the top two forms of mistreatment during childbirth were shouting and scolding,” Monica McLemore, an assistant professor of family health care nursing at the University of California, San Francisco, and an author on the study, tells HuffPost. “I find that to be unacceptable.”

Here’s the breakdown of what one in six women say they experienced:

  • Being shouted at or scolded by a healthcare provider (8.5%)
  • Having requests ignored by health care providers, being ignored, or refused help (7.8%)
  • Violation of physical privacy (5.5%)
  • Health care providers threatening to withhold treatment/forcing patients to accept treatment they did not want (4.5%)

This survey brings to mind an unsettling experience during my own childbirth a few years ago. I had my membranes swept (I was a week overdue and it was recommended) without receiving an explanation of the excruciating pain that entails — and the doctor working that day had longish acrylic nails.

I basically shrugged my consent because I was assured this process would “speed things up considerably,” though the doctor asked me not to tell anyone, even though the membrane sweep would become clear to whoever my delivery doctor was.

Acrylic nails anywhere NEAR a vagina at any time, to me, is mistreatment. It’s far from life-threatening, but it’s still valid.

The survey also reported that much higher rates of mistreatment were found in women who had unplanned C-sections and “instrumental vaginal births.” Many participants who reported that their newborns experienced health problems after birth also say they felt they were either ignored by providers, compared unfavorably to women whose newborns did not have problems, or they weren’t responded to by providers in an adequate amount of time when a request was made for assistance.

Bottom line: all women deserve to give birth with dignity and respect wherever, whenever, and however they give birth. Health care providers and mothers should be working together in the advocacy for the mother’s health and the baby’s.

Care options and decisions should be made with full transparency and all of the information on the table. Our country’s maternal mortality rate alone should be evidence enough that there’s a missing link in maternal health — we can and should do better.

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