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Brachial plexus injuries, Secondary analysis, Secondary traumatic stress, Shoulder dystocia, Qualitative research.



  1. Beck, Cheryl Tatano DNSc, CNM, FAAN


Purpose: Shoulder dystocia is one of the most terrifying of obstetric emergencies. In this secondary analysis of two qualitative studies, the experiences of shoulder dystocia are compared and contrasted from two perspectives: the mothers and the labor and delivery nurses.


Method: In the first study mothers' experiences of shoulder dystocia and caring for their children with obstetric brachial plexus injuries were explored. The second study explored secondary traumatic stress in labor and delivery nurses due to exposure to traumatic births. Krippendorff's content analysis technique of clustering was used to identify data that could be grouped together into themes.


Results: It was striking how similar the perspectives of mothers and their nurses were regarding a shoulder dystocia birth. Four themes emerged from the content analysis of these two data sets: (1) in the midst of the obstetric nightmare; (2) reeling from the trauma that just transpired; (3) enduring heartbreak: the heavy toll on mothers; and (4) haunted by memories: the heavy toll on nurses.


Clinical Implications: Providing emotional support to the mother during shoulder dystocia births and afterward in the postpartum period has been acknowledged. What now needs to be added to best practices for shoulder dystocia are interventions for the nurses themselves. Support for labor and delivery nurses who are involved in this obstetric nightmare is critical.