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Midwives should mind their language around childbirth says report

A survey led by the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) has concluded that the language used by midwives and doctors to describe childbirth should be less judgemental and more personal.

Around 1,500 women included in the survey said that words such as 'failure', 'incompetence' (as in incompetent cervix) and 'lack of maternal effort' should no longer be used and preferred the term 'spontaneous vaginal birth' over 'normal', 'natural' or 'unassisted' birth.

The women said they wanted labour and birth to be a positive experience and for language used to be non-judgemental, accurate and clear. The report recommends asking pregnant women what language is right for them.

New RCM guidance in response to catastrophic maternity failings particularly at hospitals run by the Shrewsbury and Telford and Nottingham trusts is to put women in the driving seat when it comes to how their labour is managed and described.

Many of our clients who have lost babies or whose babies have been catastrophically injured during birth mention insensitive attitudes by midwives which leaves them feeling they are somehow a 'nuisance' and being bullied into accepting care they do not feel is appropriate.

At the same time, the recent Five X More campaign to improve maternal outcomes for black and black mixed women highlighted racial bias and inequality in the treatment of BAME women during labour and childbirth, including racial and discriminatory language that impacted the care and subsequent safety of the mothers and their babies.

Terms such as 'strong black woman' sees women perceived as 'tough' and somehow better able to endure physical and emotional pain compared to white women, which affected attitudes to pain relief and is part of the continuous process of 'othering'.

Where the medical negligence team here in Manchester and in London mainly encounters racial inequality and inappropriate language generally is in witness statements as part of negligence claims that reference language barriers, cultural differences, the fear of speaking out and simply not being listened to by the people meant to be caring for them.

Much of the language around childbirth is antiquated and reminiscent of outdated traditions whereby maternity care was consultant-led, often by men, with women the passive the subjects in their own labour.

Radical changes to the language used to describe labour and birth are an essential element of the radical overhaul of NHS maternity services that will surely follow the Ockenden report and the upcoming Nottingham inquiry that have shocked the whole country.

Read more about our birth injury claims and our recent maternity cases.

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