Maternity research - the role of social media

By Anna Marsh, RCM member on 31 March 2023 Maternity Services RCM UK Midwives Midwifery Workforce Research

As an 18 year old writing my university application, I always pictured my future midwife-self running clinics filled with pregnant women, storming around wards or reaching over a birth pool to help a woman bringing her new baby into the world. Never did I imagine that five years into my midwifery career, I’d be starting a year working entirely from home, tapping away at my laptop working on a research project.

My interest in research started as a student midwife. Given the free reign of whatever topic we fancied, our dissertation was to write a review of the literature. After agonising over which topic I was going to spend the next few months focussed on, it was sat on the sofa watching One Born Every Minute where I found the inspiration for exploring the effects of television on women’s expectations of birth. As I delved into the research, I found staff at Bournemouth University had written some of the key papers and seemed to have an interest in the area.

I didn’t think much more about research for a while after that. It was after I qualified and finished my preceptorship that I found myself having conversations with women about their births and factors that have influenced their decision making. Social media kept cropping up as a source of information, discussion or concern, and it really struck me that it really wasn’t an element of my role as a midwife, despite being a public health promoter.

So I got back in touch with Bournemouth. Prof Vanora Hundley and Prof Ann Luce from Bournemouth University supported me to apply for a Wellbeing of Women Entry Level Scholarship for Midwives. Ran in partnership with the RCM and Burdett Trust for Nursing, the award enables midwives to take protected time away from the clinical area to explore an area of research, supported by experts within the field. I really felt like it provided a taster of being a midwifery researcher, and it cemented my interest in the area.

During this time, I looked at the literature through a scoping review of nurses’ and midwives’ views of using social media within their professional role. Having found that there was very little research into the area, I then continued to scope midwives’ current use by exploring how they post about birth on the popular social media platform Instagram.

This work prepared me to apply for and secure an NIHR ICA Programme Pre-doctoral Clinical and Practitioner Academic Fellowship (PCAF) exploring midwives’ use of social media. The PCAF enables me to work on the project full time, seconded from my clinical role for a year. Whilst I really enjoy research, it feels really strange to say that in the long term, I’m hoping I’ll be able to advance this work into a PhD, looking at whether a training package for midwives could improve how they use social media.

I have no idea whether my career will continue down the research pathway forever, but I have found it such an exciting way to influence and chance clinical practice, and in turn improve women’s outcomes and experience.

If you are interested in exploring your ideas don’t be afraid to reach out and contact midwifery researchers. A great starting point is the RCM Buddy Scheme - if you’re thinking of applying for a Wellbeing of Women Entry Level Scholarship for Midwives, they’ll connect you up with a support network of experienced researchers to help you get the ball rolling. Taking that step into research can open up a real opportunity to make a huge difference to women’s experiences and the care that we provide.