Dutch research shows communication is crucial in childbirth

Despite what most may think, it’s not the physical pain or serious medical interventions that make childbirth so intensely challenging. According to new Dutch research, it’s actually the lack of clear communication and emotional support that determines how traumatic the childbirth experience turns out to be. 

The study

Two gynaecologists by the names of Claire Stramrood and Martine Hollander, training at UMC Utrecht and Radboud UMC, wanted to know whether traumatic births could be prevented.

The researchers interviewed over 2,000 women about their childbirth experiences and published their findings in the Archives of Women’s Mental Health.

They found that between 10 and 20 percent of all women experienced traumatic childbirths and of these, between one and three percent developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

Feeling Safe

According to Stramrood and Hollander, most doctors tend to think that a traumatic birth results from an intervention of some kind, such as an emergency cesarian section, the use of a vacuum pump or severe blood loss during childbirth. 

However, their research revealed a different picture. "Women appear to be able to endure even the most terrible things during childbirth provided they feel safe and supported." 

According to the study, women feel that their desires and fears are not heard nor that doctors take the time to explain things to do them.

"Good communication sounds so easy, yet almost half of the participants in our survey said that they often didn’t know why something was being done or not," says Stramrood. 

Furthermore, they claimed that by not providing explanations, women tended to feel very lonely and unpleasant during the birth.

The researchers believe that more attention should be given to the issue, whether that means that a midwife or a doctor takes a few minutes to explain the procedure to women and inform them that they have choices.

Following-up after childbirth

When the study focused on the experience of the follow-up, most women described it as inadequate.

A quarter said that they were never given the time to express their experience of the birth or how radically intense it had been for them. The researchers call for more awareness in this area. 

Jan van Lith, Chair of the Dutch Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology (NVOG), has stated that lots of changes have taken place in recent years to improve communication during childbirth and they will continue to promote listening to patients amongst obstetricians, gynaecologists, pediatricians and other maternity care professionals in order to set realistic expectations.


Kiri Scully


Kiri Scully

Raised a global citizen, to an Irish father and American mother, Kiri has lived and worked in five countries over three continents. Fuelled by culture curiosity at an early age,...

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