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Abdominal palpation—a core skill

02 February 2020
3 min read
Volume 28 · Issue 2
 Part of being a good midwife is having the skills, such as abdominal palpation, to not always rely on machinery for results
Part of being a good midwife is having the skills, such as abdominal palpation, to not always rely on machinery for results


While sitting on the flight home from a trip to Southern Ethiopia, Emma Spillane reflected on her time spent volunteering in the country. Here, she offers insight into her experience

My mind starts to wander to the days spent training and the basic midwifery skills taught to the midwives in the health centres. The two health centres I taught at were in remote ‘kebeles’ (villages) in the Dilla Zuria region of Ethiopia.

During one meeting at a health centre, the health officer and midwives had asked for an ultrasound machine so they could better identify the gestation of pregnancies as most of the mothers do not know their last menstrual period date. To me, this seemed a strange request given that the region, as with much of Ethiopia, does not have the infrastructure to run such machines, neither do they have the training available in these remote areas to learn the skills for ultrasonography.

Instead, we taught them about the importance of basic midwifery skills, such as abdominal palpation and measuring symphysis fundal height as a guide to estimating gestational age and measuring the growth of the unborn infant. We stressed how ultrasound alone, particularly when used on very malnourished mothers, would not necessarily be an accurate way to estimate gestation.

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