A qualitative exploration of how midwives' and obstetricians' perception of risk affects care practices for low-risk women and normal birth.
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HEALY, S., HUMPHREYS, E. and KENNEDY, C. 2017. A qualitative exploration of how midwives' and obstetricians' perception of risk affects care practices for low-risk women and normal birth. Women and birth [online], In Press. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wombi.2017.02.005
Background: Maternity care is facing increasing intervention and iatrogenic morbidity rates. This can be attributed, in part, to higher-risk maternity populations, but also to a risk culture in which birth is increasingly seen as abnormal. Technology and intervention are used to prevent perceived implication in adverse outcomes and litigation. Question: Does midwives' and obstetricians' perception of risk affect care practices for normal birth and low-risk women in labour, taking into account different settings? Methods: The research methods are developed within a qualitative framework. Data were collected using semi-structured interviews and analysed thematically. A purposive sample of 25 midwives and obstetricians were recruited from three maternity settings in Ireland. This included obstetric-led hospitals, an alongside midwifery-led unit and the community. Findings: Midwifery is assuming a peripheral position with regard to normal birth as a progressive culture of risk and medicalisation affects the provision of maternity care. This is revealed in four themes; (1) professional autonomy and hierarchy in maternity care; (2) midwifery-led care as an undervalued and unsupported aspiration; (3) a shift in focus from striving for normality to risk management; and (4) viewing pregnancy through a 'risk-lens'. Discussion: Factors connected to the increased medicalisation of birth contribute to the lack of midwifery responsibility for low-risk women and normal birth. Midwives are resigned to the current situation and as a profession are reluctant to take action. Conclusion: Improved models of care, distinct from medical jurisdiction, are required. Midwives must take responsibility for leading change as their professional identity is in jeopardy.