'The Me Too of birth' as women speak up about trauma

A new Me Too movement is unfolding as Australian women speak up about birth trauma and the right to consent in a medical setting, a leading maternity academic has told an inquiry.

The NSW parliamentary inquiry into the prevalence and effects of birth trauma has attracted 4000 submissions from women, doctors and midwives around the country.

Hannah Dahlen, a midwifery researcher from Western Sydney University, said it was a landmark moment for women at a time when surgical birth intervention rates were rising.

"No means no, except apparently in childbirth and it's time to change that," Professor Dahlen told the inquiry's first public hearing on Monday.

"This is the Me Too movement of birth now finally coming to fruition."

Several studies by the university showed a third of Australian women have experienced birth trauma, which can include fearing for their lives, loss of control and pelvic floor damage.

The research found one in 10 women reported "obstetric violence", defined as a dehumanising or abusive birth experience.

One woman involved in the university's research spoke of having her placenta "aggressively" pulled out while an obstetrician told her to be quiet, and another was forced to have a caesarean when there was no emergency.

The interventions most associated with trauma were caesareans during labour, inductions and instrumental births involving the use of forceps or a vacuum, the research showed.

Prof Dahlen said women fared best when they had a relationship-centred model of care with a consistent midwife or obstetrician during pregnancy and birth.

"There's no doubt continuity of care has got to be one of the biggest things in protecting women, regardless of what happens during their birth," she said.

Deborah Willcox, the NSW Health deputy secretary for strategy and planning, said the department acknowledged the distress and bravery of women who shared their stories.

"We are sorry this has been their experience and NSW Health commits to listening and learning from what they're telling us," Ms Willcox said.

Jared Watts, an obstetrician-gynaecologist who works in rural areas, said women should be given information about emergency procedures long before childbirth.

Patients would ideally meet multidisciplinary teams in the weeks before their due date, as trauma was often related to interactions with doctors during emergencies, he said.

"For the very first time they're meeting the obstetricians when, to be frank,  their legs are in the air, they've never met these people before and they're doing things that they don't really understand," Dr Watts said.

"This idea of obstetrician-led care, midwifery-led care, it needs to come back to patient-centred care (with) multidisciplinary teams.

"The last thing we want is traumatising women when we meet them for the first time, when we are performing a procedure in an emergency situation."

Better early education about potential emergency scenarios could also assist in obtaining informed consent, he said.

The inquiry, which will run for several months, is due to hold another hearing in Wollongong on Thursday.

License this article

What is AAPNews?

For the first time, Australian Associated Press is delivering news straight to the consumer.

No ads. No spin. News straight-up.

Not only do you get to enjoy high-quality news delivered straight to your desktop or device, you do so in the knowledge you are supporting media diversity in Australia.

AAP Is Australia’s only independent newswire service, free from political and commercial influence, producing fact-based public interest journalism across a range of topics including politics, courts, sport, finance and entertainment.

What is AAPNews?
The Morning Wire

Wake up to AAPNews’ morning news bulletin delivered straight to your inbox or mobile device, bringing you up to speed with all that has happened overnight at home and abroad, as well as setting you up what the day has in store.

AAPNews Morning Wire
AAPNews Breaking News
Breaking News

Be the first to know when major breaking news happens.

Notifications will be sent to your device whenever a big story breaks, ensuring you are never in the dark when the talking points happen.

Focused Content

Enjoy the best of AAP’s specialised Topics in Focus. AAP has reporters dedicated to bringing you hard news and feature content across a range of specialised topics including Environment, Agriculture, Future Economies, Arts and Refugee Issues.

AAPNews Focussed Content
Subscription Plans

Choose the plan that best fits your needs. AAPNews offers two basic subscriptions, all billed monthly.

Once you sign up, you will have seven days to test out the service before being billed.

AAPNews Full Access Plan
Full Access
  • Enjoy all that AAPNews has to offer
  • Access to breaking news notifications and bulletins
  • Includes access to all AAPNews’ specialised topics
Join Now
AAPNews Student Access Plan
Student Access
  • Gain access via a verified student email account
  • Enjoy all the benefits of the ‘Full Access’ plan at a reduced rate
  • Subscription renews each month
Join Now
AAPNews Annual Access Plan
Annual Access
  • All the benefits of the 'Full Access' subscription at a discounted rate
  • Subscription automatically renews after 12 months
Join Now

AAPNews also offers enterprise deals for businesses so you can provide an AAPNews account for your team, organisation or customers. Click here to contact AAP to sign-up your business today.

Download the app
Download AAPNews on the App StoreDownload AAPNews on the Google Play Store