Alternative language guide for midwives

By Julie Griffiths on 12 February 2018 Midwives

Experts have suggested new examples of language for midwives and doctors to use when addressing the women in their care and their partners.

The ‘Good practice in birth communication’ guide, published in an opinion piece in the BMJ, suggests avoiding phrases that are anxiety provoking, over-dramatic, violent, discouraging or insensitive.

It also recommends respecting women as individuals, respecting their autonomy as a decision maker, and replacing exclusive or codified language with more understandable plain language.

Examples include using the woman’s name instead of ‘she’ or ‘my woman’ and using phrases such as ‘gave birth’ instead of ‘delivered’, and ‘medically complex’ instead of ‘high risk’ or ‘poor obstetric history’.

The experts created the guide after exploring language use in maternity settings with the multidisciplinary, collaborative #MatExp Facebook group to identify how language could improve the experiences of women, babies and families.

The authors of the guide state that while good communication during the birthing process is critical to good maternity care; achieving a shift in deeply ingrained language, and the thinking it reflects, is difficult.

They added that there is a fine line between changing terminology to integrate language, which is more respectful, inclusive, and less intimidating for the mother, and substituting vague, verbose language which hinders the original message.

The experts concluded: ‘It is essential that we achieve respectful practice, ensuring that women have complete understanding and control of their own care.’

RCM CEO Gill Walton said: ‘Language is important and the words used and the way they are spoken is crucial to good communication between healthcare professionals and the people they care for.

‘Midwives are very adept and skilled in tailoring their care to the individual women and their partners and this also applies to the language they use. The RCM would expect all health professionals to be aware of the need to use the appropriate language relevant to the people they are caring for, so that women and their families understand what is happening and understand what is being communicated, so they can, with the support of the midwife, make the right decisions about their care.’  

Gill added: ‘The code for midwives and nurses says that they must “take reasonable steps to meet people’s language and communication needs” and we would expect them and all people working in healthcare to adhere to this.’  

Access the article in the BMJ here