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Keywords:

  • childbirth experience;
  • dystocia;
  • labours complications

Aims.  This study aimed to analyse and describe women's different perceptions and experiences of childbirth following prolonged or normal labour.

Background.  In clinical practice prolonged labour, or dystocia, is a common delivery complication often causing a negative birth experience.

Method.  Women giving singleton live birth to their first child with spontaneous labour after more than 37 completed weeks’ pregnancy at three hospitals in northern Sweden were recruited to a case–referent study. Cases (n = 84) were women following a prolonged labour with assisted vaginal or abdominal delivery, and referents (n = 171) delivered following a normal labour. Participants completed a questionnaire that investigated childbirth experiences, previous family relationships and childhood experiences.

Results.  Women with prolonged labour had a negative childbirth experience more often (34%) than did women who had a normal labour (4%) (P < 0.05). Cases agreed significantly more than the referents with the statement, ‘Pain relief during the delivery saved me’ (OR 4.5, 95% CI: 1.9–11.1) and ‘My difficulties during the delivery will mark me for life’ (OR 12.4, 95% CI: 4.4–35.9). There were no differences between the cases and referents regarding perceived experience of professional or social support.

Relevance to clinical practice.  To improve care, midwives and doctors can alleviate pain and relieve the negativity and difficulty associated with the experience of prolonged labour from the perspective of the woman giving birth.