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Key dimensions of women’s and their partners’ experiences of childbirth: a systematic review of reviews of qualitative studies

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journal contribution
posted on 2024-05-03, 14:52 authored by Yael Benyamini, Amy Delicate, Susan Ayers, Pelin Dikmen-Yildiz, Olga Gouni, Sigridur Sia Jonsdottir, Sigfridur Inga Karlsdottir, Burcu Kömürcü Akik, Julia Leinweber, Sylvia Murphy TigheSylvia Murphy Tighe, Zada Pajalic, Olga Riklikiene, Claudia Maria Limmer


The World Health Organization 2018 intrapartum guideline for a positive birth experience emphasized the importance of maternal emotional and psychological well-being during pregnancy and the need for safe childbirth. Today, in many countries birth is safe, yet many women report negative and traumatic birth experiences, with adverse effects on their and their families’ well-being. Many reviews have attempted to understand the complexity of women’s and their partners’ birth experience; however, it remains unclear what the key dimensions of the birth experience are.


To synthesize the information from reviews of qualitative studies on the experience of childbirth in order to identify key dimensions of women’s and their partners’ childbirth experience.


Systematic database searches yielded 40 reviews, focusing either on general samples or on specific modes of birth or populations, altogether covering primary studies from over 35,000 women (and >1000 partners) in 81 countries. We appraised the reviews’ quality, extracted data and analysed it using thematic analysis.


Four key dimensions of women’s and partners’ birth experience (covering ten subthemes), were identified: 1) Perceptions, including attitudes and beliefs; 2) Physical aspects, including birth environment and pain; 3) Emotional challenges; and 4) Relationships, with birth companions and interactions with healthcare professionals. In contrast with the comprehensive picture that arises from our synthesis, most reviews attended to only one or two of these dimensions.


The identified key dimensions bring to light the complexity and multidimensionality of the birth experience. Within each dimension, pathways leading towards negative and traumatic birth experiences as well as pathways leading to positive experiences become tangible. Identifying key dimensions of the birth experience may help inform education and research in the field of birth experiences and gives guidance to practitioners and policy makers on how to promote positive birth experiences for women and their partners.



PLOS ONE, 2024, 19 (3), e0299151


Public Library of Science

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We acknowledge support for the article processing charge by the Open Access Publication Fund of Hamburg University of Applied Sciences

Sustainable development goals

  • (3) Good Health and Well-being

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  • Nursing and Midwifery

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