In every aspect of our lives, language matters – and in health and care settings, it’s even more important. How we communicate with each other can determine the quality and impact of the care given and received, which is why developing a shared language is so important. Pregnancy and birth are extraordinarily personal, and personalising care is central to good outcomes and experience. There has been a great deal of debate in recent years about the language around birth, and the impact it can have. During this project, for example, women were keen to tell us how terms such as ‘failure to progress’ or ‘lack of maternal effort’ can contribute to feelings of failure and trauma.

There has been particular debate around the term ‘normal birth’. Despite being the term used by organisations including the International Confederation of Midwives and the World Health Organization, it has often taken on negative connotations in the UK, and particularly in England.

In 2020, the Royal College of Midwives, which counts the majority of midwives practising in the UK among its membership, took the decision to address this, and to try to develop an agreed shared language, working with maternity staff, users of maternity services and others involved in the care and support of pregnant women and families. Over the course of 18 months, the consultation has involved nearly 8,000 people from across all four UK nations.

The project has been ably guided and supported by our project oversight group. We are immensely grateful to the members of the project oversight group and all those who took part in the project for giving their time and sharing their experiences. How we use language inevitably evolves over time, but we hope that the Re:Birth project will help to embed a shared, respectful way of discussing labour and birth.