Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Encountering abuse in health care; lifetime experiences in postnatal women - a qualitative study

Anne-Mette Schroll1*, Hanne Kjærgaard2 and Julie Midtgaard34

Author Affiliations

1 Rigshospitalet, Copenhagen University Hospital, Center for Foetal Medicine and Pregnancy (4002), Blegdamsvej 9, Copenhagen Ø, DK-2100, Denmark

2 Rigshospitalet, Copenhagen University Hospital, The Research Unit Women’s and Children’s Health (7821), Blegdamsvej 9, Copenhagen Ø, DK-2100, Denmark

3 Rigshospitalet, Copenhagen University Hospital, Center for Health Care Research (UCSF) (9701), Blegdamsvej 9, Copenhagen Ø, DK-2100, Denmark

4 Department of Clinical Medicine, University of Copenhagen, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, Blegdamsvej 3, Copenhagen Ø, DK-2100, Denmark

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BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 2013, 13:74  doi:10.1186/1471-2393-13-74

Published: 22 March 2013



Abuse in health care (AHC) has been associated with potential severe health consequences, and has further been related to maternal morbidity and mortality in childbirth. To improve our understanding of what qualifies as AHC and to support and optimise the health of women with these experiences, the objective of this study was to describe how women, who had previously endured AHC, gave meaning to and managed their experience during pregnancy, childbirth, and in the early postnatal period.


Women, who had reported substantial suffering as a result of a previous experience of abuse within the healthcare system, were purposefully selected from a Danish sample of a multinational cohort study on negative life events among pregnant women (the BIDENS Study). Eleven women were interviewed individually by means of a semi-structured interview guide. Transcripts of the interviews were analysed by means of qualitative systematic text condensation analysis.


Four categories were identified to describe the women’s experience of AHC and its consequences on pregnancy and childbirth: abusive acts of unintentional harm, dehumanization, bodily remembrance, and finding the strength to move on. Abuse in health care may have profound consequences on the reproductive lives of the women, among others affecting sexuality, the desire to have children and the expectations of mode of delivery. However, the women described constructive ways to manage the experience, to which healthcare professionals could also contribute significantly.


Regardless of whether AHC is experienced in childhood or adulthood, it can influence the lives of women during pregnancy and childbirth. By recognising the potential existence of AHC, healthcare professionals have a unique opportunity to support women who have experienced AHC.

Abuse in health care; Pregnancy; Childbirth; Dehumanization; Empathy