Obstetric Violence

Obstetric violence is the physical, sexual and verbal abuse, intimidation, coercion, humiliation and aggression that occurs during labor and at the time of giving birth to women, by medical personnel, nurses and midwives. In short, obstetric violence is any time a person in labor or childbirth experiences mistreatment or disrespect of her rights, including being forced to undergo procedures against her will, at the hands of the medical staff.

Obstetric violence occurs in hospitals around the world, including in the United States.

Obstetric violence occurs across a broad spectrum and includes the following:

  • Vaginal exams without consent.
  • Forced cesarean surgery.
  • Physical strength to prevent birth while waiting for the doctor to arrive.
  • Physical restraint during childbirth.
  • Sexual comments or sexual assault during exams or procedures.
  • Intimidation in procedures, such as induction, episiotomy or caesarean section, without medical reason.

The National Alliance for Women and Families and Childbirth Connection also discuss the specific rights of pregnant women and mothers in a document called “The Rights of Pregnant Women.”

When these rights are forcibly denied or ignored in childbirth, it is obstetric violence, and it is illegal. Currently, the process for reporting this type of abuse is not always straightforward or simple. The affected woman can start by contacting the administrative office of her hospital to file a formal complaint.

In addition to seeking justice for abuse during childbirth, those who have experienced obstetric violence must also grapple with healing from the trauma since birth. Healing and recovery from traumatic childbirth is a critical piece of your short- and long-term health and wellness. Improving Birth offers a free “Pathways to Healing” resource guide to help you through this process.

Until more families speak out against the mistreatment and wrong that has happened in the maternity care setting, the setting will not change and providers and staff will continue to practice the same way. While obstetric violence isn’t the norm for everyone who gives birth in hospitals, it does happen, and it happens more often than it should (hint: it should never happen!).