What is obstetric violence?
Obstetric violence includes any act that causes harm in the context of pregnancy care. It is a type of violence against females and a violation of human rights.
If you experience obstetric violence, you might feel shamed, ignored, disrespected, helpless or violated.
Any type of healthcare worker could be responsible for obstetric violence, whether they interact with you during pregnancy, childbirth or soon after your baby is born.
What does obstetric violence look like?
Obstetric violence can take different forms.
Performing an examination or treatment without your consent is a type of obstetric violence. This includes not giving you enough information to make an informed decision about a procedure, such as a vaginal examination, stretch and sweep, episiotomy or caesarean.
Another type of obstetric violence is providing healthcare without respecting your dignity, for example:
- exposing parts of your body without checking that it’s OK with you
- not listening to your concerns
- refusing to give you pain relief
- making inappropriate comments
Other examples of obstetric violence include:
- bullying, threatening and blaming
- failure to protect confidentiality
- discrimination against someone who is pregnant or giving birth, for example, because of their ethnicity, age, weight or beliefs
- separating you from your baby
- preventing access to safe termination of pregnancy
What are my rights during pregnancy and when having a baby?
During pregnancy care and birth, you have a right not to be harmed or treated in a harmful way. You are entitled to be treated with respect and dignity and to expect healthcare workers to maintain your privacy and keep your health information confidential.
Your choices must be respected, even if they are different from what your doctor or midwife recommends.
You have a right to:
- choose what type of pregnancy care you would like
- get information about the benefits and risks of different care options, tests and treatments
- ask questions
- be involved in decisions about your care
- give or withdraw consent for any type of care you’re offered
- have a support person with you
If you have an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander background or come from another country, you are entitled to pregnancy care that is appropriate for your culture.
If you prefer a language other than English, you are entitled to pregnancy care in your language of choice.
Find out more about your rights during pregnancy and birth.
What safeguards are in place to prevent obstetric violence?
The Australian Government and Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists have published guidelines that protect your rights during pregnancy and birth. These guidelines set the standard for pregnancy care in Australia.
These guidelines include training healthcare workers to support people from different backgrounds and cultures.
They also identify things that can make the health system safer, for example, having appropriate pregnancy and birth services for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people, providing telehealth services for those in rural or remote areas and employing enough staff so that all females can get the care they need.
Safeguards that can prevent obstetric violence include:
- using an interpreter to make sure you can express yourself and understand all the information you’re given, if you prefer a language other than English
- using a pregnancy care health record that you take home with you after each appointment, so that you’re in control of your own health information
- having your partner or another support person accompany you to appointments and during birth
You can access an interpreter via the Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS).
What can I do if I have experienced obstetric violence?
If you have experienced obstetric violence, you can make a complaint through your hospital or health service. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this, or if you’re not happy with the way they deal with your complaint, you can contact the health complaints agency in your state or territory.
If you would like to make a complaint about a particular healthcare worker, you can contact the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency.
You might find it helpful to see a counsellor or psychologist to talk about your experience. You can ask your doctor for a referral.
Resources and support
Find out more about your rights as a consumer of the Australian healthcare system.
Find contact details of the health complaints agency in your state or territory and other organisations that can help you with a concern or complaint.
Call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) — the national counselling helpline and support service for people impacted by sexual assault, family violence or violence against women. This is a confidential and free service where you can have a private and anonymous conversation with an experienced counsellor. The service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days per week.
Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436 for advice, support and guidance from our maternal child health nurses.
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Last reviewed: April 2023