Understanding hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and Hypermobility Spectrum Disorders in the context of childbearing: An international qualitative study

Sally Pezaro, Gemma Pearce, Emma Reinhold

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The Ehlers-Danlos syndromes (EDS) and Hypermobility Spectrum Disorders (HSD) have profound and life-threatening consequences in childbearing as they affect connective tissues throughout the body. Hypermobile EDS (hEDS) and HSD are estimated here for the first time to affect 6 million (4.6%) pregnancies globally per year. The aim of this study was to arrive at a deeper biopsychosocial understanding of childbearing in the context of hEDS/HSD.

English speaking women aged over 18 years who had previously given birth and had a confirmed medical diagnosis of hEDS/HSD or equivalent diagnosis under a preceding nosology were included in this study (n=40). Narrative interviews were used to collect qualitative data from this international sample of participants. Thematic narrative analysis was used to understand how participants made sense of their experiences.

Participants were aged between 25 and 55. Births (n= 52) between 1981 and 2018 were captured across United Kingdom=29 (73%), United States of America=10 (25%) and Canada=1 (2%). The majority of participants interviewed recounted a worsening of symptoms during pregnancy and postnatal complications. Anaesthesia was often reportedly ineffective, and for many, long latent phases of labour quickly developed into rapidly progressing active labours and births. Maternity staff were observed to be panicked by these unexpected outcomes and were deemed to lack the knowledge and understanding of how to care for women in this context. Poor maternity care resulted in women disengaging from services, trauma, stress, anxiety and an avoidance of future childbearing.

Key conclusions and implications for practice
Cases of hEDS/HSD should no longer be considered rare in maternity services. Maternity staff must be adequately prepared for this new reality. As a first step, www.hEDSTogether.com has been developed to provide a repository of evidence in relation to this topic, along with a freely downloadable toolkit for use in practice. It is important to listen, acknowledge and respond to women with hEDS/HSD appropriately throughout their childbearing journey. Dismissal can lead to trauma and needless morbidity.
Original languageEnglish
Article number102749
Early online date25 May 2020
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2020

Bibliographical note

NOTICE: this is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Midwifery. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Midwifery, 88 (2020) DOI: 10.1016/j.midw.2020.102749

© 2020, Elsevier. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/


  • Pregnancy
  • Birth
  • Postnatal
  • Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome
  • Joint HypermobilityHypermobility Spectrum Disorders


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