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What is traumatic birth? A concept analysis and literature review

Greenfield, Mari; Jomeen, Julie; Glover, Lesley


Mari Greenfield

Julie Jomeen

Lesley Glover


Background: A number of women experience childbirth as traumatic. This experience can have enduring and potentially lifelong effects on both mental and physical health, and have implications for the woman's relationship with her baby, partner and family. It can also have implications for future decisions about pregnancy and birth. However, the meaning of the term ‘traumatic birth’ remains poorly defined. Clear understanding of the concept is critical to better underpin understanding and effectively evaluate women's experiences. Objective: To review the literature pertaining to ‘traumatic birth’ and produce a definition of the concept. Methods: The concept analysis framework of Walker and Avant (2011) was used. Electronic bibliographic databases CINAHL, Medline, PsycINFO and Cochrane were searched to find papers written in English and dated 1998–2015. From a narrative literature review, the defining attributes were ascertained, and model, borderline, related, contrary, invented and illegitimate cases were constructed. The antecedents and consequences were then identified and empirical referents determined. Findings: The apparent attributes of ‘traumatic birth’ are that a baby has emerged from the body of its mother at a gestation where survival was possible. This birth has involved events and/or care that have caused deep distress or disturbance to the mother, and the distress has outlived the immediate experience. Conclusions: ‘Traumatic birth’ is a complex concept which is used to describe a series of related experiences of, and negative psychological responses to, childbirth. Physical trauma in the form of injury to the baby or mother may be involved, but is not a necessary condition.


Greenfield, M., Jomeen, J., & Glover, L. (2016). What is traumatic birth? A concept analysis and literature review. British Journal of Midwifery, 24(4), 254-267.

Acceptance Date Jan 17, 2016
Online Publication Date Apr 7, 2016
Publication Date Apr 2, 2016
Deposit Date Apr 26, 2016
Publicly Available Date Nov 23, 2017
Journal British journal of midwifery
Print ISSN 0969-4900
Electronic ISSN 2052-4307
Publisher MA Healthcare
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 24
Issue 4
Pages 254-267
Keywords Traumatic birth, Concept analysis, Psychological distress
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information This document is the Accepted Manuscript version of a Published Work that appeared in final form in British journal of midwifery, copyright © MA Healthcare, after peer review and technical editing by the publisher. To access the final edited and published work see


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