Anxious about routine cervical exams and Pap smears? A 2019 study by Cornforth found a significant number of women ages 18-71 reported feeling at least some anxiety during gynecological exams.

For some, though, a pelvic exam can be so paralyzing they avoid care. If you’ve had traumatic experiences, you may benefit from receiving trauma-informed care.

What is Trauma-Informed Care?

Trauma-informed care assumes most people have experienced some form of trauma. It uses actions and techniques to avoid re-traumatizing a person. Healthcare providers who practice trauma-informed care have received training to help them recognize the signs that a person may have experienced a form of trauma. They’re able to modify care to minimize re-traumatizing you.

Be Your Own Advocate

The main thing you can do to have a positive health care experience is to be your own advocate. Find a healthcare professional that you trust, and who listens to your needs and concerns. Ask if they’re familiar with trauma-informed care, and share your experiences or concerns, as desired.

During trauma-informed care you should always feel respected and in control. You may never look forward to your annual well-woman exam, but it doesn’t have to be an experience that gives you anxiety or leaves you feeling re-traumatized.

Principles of Trauma Informed Care

  • Individuals feel physically and psychologically safe
  • Healthcare decisions build and maintain trust, and ensure that the person is the primary decision-maker
  • Individuals receive access to peer support and can connect with others with similar experiences
  • Your healthcare provider collaborates with other members of your care team
  • Individuals are empowered to recognize their own strengths, and ability to heal and overcome past traumas
  • Biases in relation to race, sex, gender, religion, etc. that a person may have experienced are affirmed and acknowledged

Receiving Trauma-Informed Care

Use these tips to seek trauma-informed care. Healthcare providers who practice trauma-informed care will:

  • Give you as much time as you need to emotionally prepare before beginning any physical care or examination
  • Tell you exactly what they are going to do before doing it, and wait for your permission to proceed

  • Encourage you to sit up during a pelvic exam as opposed to laying on your back

  • If it helps you maintain control or feel comfortable, they may have you put your hand over theirs during your exam

  • During childbirth they will encourage you to give birth in whatever positions feel most comfortable and effective for you

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By Jessica McNeil, DNP, APRN, CNM, RNC-OB, C-EFM


Jessica McNeil, DNP, APRN, CNM, RNC-OB, C-EFM is a certified nurse midwife at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, TX, and an adjunct professor at Baylor University. Her professional experience has focused on maternal and infant health.

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