Sexual abuse prevalence and association with adverse labour and birth outcomes
Fyfe, Elaine Maria
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In the past decade there has been growing recognition that a sexual abuse history may manifest during health care examinations. More recently, awareness has been raised about a possible link between a history of sexual abuse and traumatic labour and birth. It is theoretically likely that the intimacy of labour and birth for women with a history of sexual abuse may trigger post-traumatic stress symptomatology. In this cross sectional study, a survey method was used to establish prevalence of sexual abuse and to measure obstetric outcomes, birth experience and birth trauma in a cohort of women who have recently given birth and to test whether there are associations between sexual abuse and birth outcomes. Eighty-five women whose 3½ to 5 year old children attend kindergarten participated. Lifetime sexual abuse was found to be a common experience for study participants. One out of every three women disclosed an experience of sexual abuse in her lifetime. A history of sexual abuse was not associated with adverse labour and birth outcomes; however women with a positive sexual abuse history were more likely to report postnatal depression. A quarter of the women had PTSD symptoms but overall, women had positive birth experiences and felt well supported. Many women are able to overcome traumatic abuse experiences and successfully cope with birth, an event that may potentially replicate the dynamics of sexual abuse. Further research is needed to identify women who may be at high risk for traumatic birth experiences. Undertaking screening for sexual abuse in the antenatal period in a safe environment may provide reassurance for women and enable identification of those women at high risk for abuse related traumatic birth experiences.