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Obstetric violence: understand what it is

Obstetric violence is still a reality in Portugal. Find out how to prevent this situation and how to act if you have suffered from this type of violence.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has already published a document on the prevention and elimination of obstetric violence.

In Portugal, the survey “Experiências de Parto em Portugal”, carried out by the Portuguese Association for the Rights of Women in Pregnancy and Childbirth (APDMGP), revealed that 43.5 percent of the women surveyed did not have the birth they wanted – data referring to the period 2015-2019.

Talking about obstetric violence is the best way to fight it. Inform yourself!

What is obstetric violence?

Obstetric violence can occur during pregnancy, childbirth, birth and/or postpartum. It can be physical, psychological, verbal, symbolic and/or sexual and translate into situations of negligence, discrimination and/or excessive, unnecessary or unadvised conduct. In general, these behaviors do not respect women’s bodies and natural rhythms.

Take note of some examples:

  • enema and diet restriction;
  • threats, screams, teasing, jokes, etc.;
  • omission of information;
  • disregard of cultural standards and values ​​of pregnant and parturient women;
  • public disclosure of information that may insult the woman;
  • not allowing the companion that the pregnant woman chooses;
  • not receive pain relief.

Humanized birth

In response to obstetric violence, there is the humanized delivery that can be normal, natural or Caesarean. By humanized, it is understood that it respects the woman, her body and her specificities.

Assistance should also be individualized and personalized, and the woman should always be heard. It is important to underline that failure to comply with these assumptions is a violation of human rights.

Episiotomy, induced labor and cesarean section

The use of each of the interventions indicated above must be well explained to the woman, giving space to her clarification and autonomy. Whenever one of these procedures is done unnecessarily and imposed, they can be considered a form of obstetric violence.

In addition, cold treatment or unnecessary comments, as well as constant and unauthorized vaginal touching are gestures capable of compromising the woman’s physical and emotional well-being, compromising the normal and healthy course of labor.

In cases where maltreatment is inflicted after childbirth, namely taking the baby away from the mother, without a justified reason, this can interfere with the course of the postpartum period. That is, it can contribute to postpartum depression and difficulties in mother-baby bonding.

Humanized childbirth: what it is and how it happens

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Humanized childbirth: what it is and how it happens

public petition

A public petition in Portugal, made in 2017, had more than 5 thousand signatures and came after a bad birth experience. It is an example of action that can be taken to give visibility to the theme.

The petition in question asked for a review of the training given to midwifery professionals, as well as the legislation that assists women’s rights during pregnancy and childbirth.

In addition, he asked for the posting of information. In addition, he asked for the posting of clear and unequivocal information on what is Obstetric Violence, in the Obstetrics Units of the SNS.

See on here the petition.

Post childbirth

birth plan

One way to protect yourself at the time of childbirth and ensure that your wishes are safeguarded is the birth plan. This plan is a kind of guide in relation to what women would like to be done or not done during labor, delivery and postpartum.

Of course, not all of these points can always be met. However, in this way, you have a document that safeguards your rights and preferences.

If you consider that you have been a victim of obstetric violence, you must report the case. First, you must still do it in a hospital setting. Afterwards, you can and should contact some associations that support new mothers such as APDMGP.

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