Childhood abuse and perinatal outcomes for mother and child: A systematic review of the literature

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Childhood abuse can have long-term adverse outcomes in adulthood. These outcomes may pose a particular threat to the health and well-being of perinatal women; however, to date, this body of knowledge has not been systematically collated and synthesized. This systematic review examined the child abuse literature and a broad range of perinatal outcomes using a comprehensive search strategy. The aim of this review was to provide a clearer understanding of the distinct effect of different abuse types and areas where there may be gaps in our knowledge. Following PRISMA guidelines, EBSCO, PsychInfo, Scopus, Medline, CINAHL, PubMed, and Google Scholar databases and gray literature including preprints, dissertations and theses were searched for literature where childhood abuse was associated with any adverse perinatal outcome between 1969 and 2022. Exclusion criteria included adolescent samples, abuse examined as a composite variable, editorials, letters to the editor, qualitative studies, reviews, meta-analyses, or book chapters. Using an assessment tool, two reviewers extracted and assessed the methodological quality and risk of bias of each study. From an initial 12,384 articles, 95 studies were selected, and the outcomes were categorized as pregnancy, childbirth, postnatal for the mother, and perinatal for mother and child. The prevalence of childhood abuse ranged from 5-25% with wide variability (physical 2-78%, sexual 2-47%, and emotional/psychological 2-69%). Despite some consistent findings relating to psychological outcomes (i.e., depression and PTSD), most evidence was inconclusive, effect sizes were small, or the findings based on a limited number of studies. Inconsistencies in findings stem from small sample sizes and differing methodologies, and their diversity meant studies were not suitable for a meta-analysis. Research implication include the need for more rigorous methodology and research in countries where the prevalence of abuse may be high. Policy implications include the need for trauma-informed care with the Multi-level Determinants of Perinatal Wellbeing for Child Abuse Survivors model a useful framework. This review highlights the possible impacts of childhood abuse on perinatal women and their offspring and areas of further investigation. This review was registered with PROSPERO in 2021 and funded by an internal grant from Charles Sturt University.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0302354
JournalPLoS One
Issue number5 May
Publication statusPublished - May 2024


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