A Narrative Synthesis of Women's Out-of-Body Experiences During Childbirth

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Abstract

Introduction:

Some women have a dissociated, out-of-body experience (OBE) during childbirth, which may be described as seeing the body from above or floating above the body. This review examines this phenomenon using narratives from women who have experienced intrapartum OBEs.

Methods:

A narrative synthesis of qualitative research was employed to systematically synthesize OBE narratives from existing studies. Strict inclusion and exclusion criteria were applied. The included papers were critiqued by 2 of the authors to determine the appropriateness of the narrative synthesis method, procedural transparency, and soundness of the interpretive approach.

Results:

Women experiencing OBEs during labor and birth report a disembodied state in the presence of stress or trauma. Three forms of OBEs are described: floating above the scene, remaining close to the scene, or full separation of a body part from the main body. Women had clear recall of OBEs, describing the experience and point of occurrence. Women who reported OBEs had experienced current or previous traumatic childbirth, or trauma in a non-birth situation. OBEs as prosaic experiences were not identified.

Discussion:

OBEs are part of the lived experience of some women giving birth. The OBEs in this review were trauma related with some women disclosing previous posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is not evident whether there is a connection between PTSD and OBEs at present, and OBEs may serve as a potential coping mechanism in the presence of trauma. Clinicians should legitimize women's disclosure of OBEs and explore and ascertain their impact, either as a normal coping mechanism or a precursor to perinatal mental illness. Research into the function of OBEs and any relationship to PTSD may assist in early interventions for childbearing women.

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