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Too Many U.S. Women Disrespected, Mistreated During Childbirth
  • Posted April 4, 2024

Too Many U.S. Women Disrespected, Mistreated During Childbirth

Childbirth is a harrowing ordeal, and it's being made worse by mistreatment from health care providers during labor, a new study says.

More than one in every eight women are mistreated during childbirth, researchers found.

Most commonly, women's requests for help during labor were refused or ignored, results show. Nearly 8% of women said this happened to them.

Another 4% of women said they were shouted at or scolded by health care providers, and more than 2% said health workers threatened to withhold treatment or forced them to accept treatment they didn't want.

“Our results suggest that pervasive structural social stigma permeates the birth experience and shapes how care is received,” said lead researcher Chen Liu, a research associate with the Columbia University Department of Health Policy and Management in New York City.

“For example, we found that LGBTQ-identifying individuals were twice as likely to experience mistreatment, driven by higher rates of feeling forced to accept unwelcome care or being denied wanted treatment,” Liu added in a university news release.

Negative experiences during childbirth can have long-term consequences, the researchers said.

Victims of such behavior can suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, negative body image and feelings of dehumanization, researchers said. These experiences also can dissuade women from having another child.

For the study, researchers surveyed women who gave birth in 2020 in New York City and the states of Kansas, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Utah and Virginia.

The findings were published April 4 in the journal JAMA Network Open.

“Mistreatment in childbirth has been widely documented in low- and middle-income countries, but this study shows that respectful maternity care is an important quality metric that we should also be tracking in the United States,” said senior researcher Jamie Daw, an assistant professor of health policy and management at Columbia.

"Reporting on these experiences is the first step to addressing them, holding health care providers accountable, and developing effective interventions to improve respectful maternity care,” Daw added.

The researchers noted they only looked at mistreatment during childbirth, and that it's possible some women also experience such behavior during pregnancy or after delivery.

“No one should experience mistreatment during what is one of the most important moments of their life,” Liu said. “We hope this study is a call to action for implementation and evaluation of patient-centered, interventions to address structural health system factors that contribute to these negative experiences.”

More information

The Cleveland Clinic has more on labor.

SOURCE: Columbia University, news release, April 4, 2024

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