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  • More must be done to reduce birth trauma, says former midwife.

    Author: Nicole Madigan

Around one in three women are experiencing birth trauma, according to Integrative Birth Therapist, Emma Sneglar, who left the midwifery profession to support women whose mental health has been impacted by traumatic birth experiences.

“I left midwifery within a month of finishing my grad program.  I knew that I was a part of traumatising women, and I couldn't keep witnessing women having their births derailed by obstetricians who did not trust women to birth their own babies,” Ms Sneglar said.

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“Because there was no strong midwifery leadership where I was, a lot of practices were implemented that went against what was best for the mother and baby.

“I couldn't reconcile what I was witnessing and what I was involved in with what I had been taught at university as a student midwife.”

Ms Sneglar said birth trauma was experienced by 1 in 3 women.


“Consider that current stats in Australia say that there are approximately 853 women giving birth in Australia per day - this means that 284 women experienced birth trauma each day last year. Of those 284 women, 1 in 4 will go on to experience PTSD and 1 in 10 will have experienced obstetric violence.”

Essentially, birth trauma occurs when a woman experiences feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, terror or horror from a distressing or disturbing event (or events) directly related to childbirth, or  her interactions during childbirth that leads to short and/or long-term negative impacts on her health and wellbeing.

“The ongoing impact of women can impact their decision to have more children in the future, it can change the way that they plan their future births, with so many either opting for an elective caesarean to avoid more trauma, and so many seeking out alternative care - a private midwife who does not work within the constraints of a hospital, or even electing to freebirth, where they do not engage a care provider at all.”

Ms Sneglar said while it might seem as though she’s anti-obstetrician, she does believe they have an important role, especially in high risk pregnancies and complicated births.

“They can and do save lives. The reality is that our birthing culture has become highly medicalised and often the cases of normal, physiological births - which is not their field of expertise - become complicated, as they often don't trust a woman's ability to birth physiologically. Midwives are the experts in true, physiological births.”

Ms Sneglar now works on the other end of the spectrum, supporting women to debrief their difficult, disappointing or traumatic birth, postnatal period or transition to motherhood.

“I listen to their stories and help them to unpack what happened and why, to help them to make sense of what happened and to help put the pieces of the puzzle together and why they might have responded in certain ways.

“I help them to process the experience, to help to shift their perspective (especially if they are feeling any kind of guilt or shame - it is never their fault yet as women we often feel like we were at fault in some way) and to start to find healing.

Ms Sneglar said there were some positive signs for change, with a parliamentary enquiry into birth trauma currently underway in NSW.

“This is a huge issue and will take a lot of time and effort to rectify, but I truly believe that we will get there. I know personally many midwives and birth workers pushing for change both within and outside of the hospital systems, doing everything that they can to support and empower women to birth in whatever way that they need to feel safe and supported.

“When the women start choosing differently for themselves is when we will see true change.”


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Nicole Madigan

Nicole Madigan is a widely published journalist with more than 15 years experience in the media and communications industries.

Specialising in health, business, property and finance, Nicole writes regularly for numerous high-profile newspapers, magazines and online publications.

Before moving into freelance writing almost a decade ago, Nicole was an on-air reporter with Channel Nine and a newspaper journalist with News Limited.

Nicole is also the Director of content and communications agency Stella Communications ( and a children's author.