Humanising birth: Does the language we use matter?. 2018. (accessed 21 February 2018)

Talk is cheap

02 March 2018
Volume 26 · Issue 3


Whether careless, insensitive, or a failure to reflect changing times, wrongly used words can be damaging. Midwives need to learn, writes Karen Barker, but not at the expense of the profession

Recently, I was interested to read a review of communication used in maternity care, published in the British Medical Journal (Mobbs et al, 2018). Some of the terms criticised by those women asked (such as ‘good girl’), I was surprised to see were still in use. Other phrases, such as ‘my woman’, ‘the primigravida’ and ‘the patient refused’, I know are still commonly used.

As midwives, we are aware of the privileged relationships we have with women and their families, and that ‘power’ should not be a part of that. Using patronising terms could make women feel undermined in their ability to birth, and adversely affect decision-making. We know that time can be of the essence in practice, but using a woman's name does not mean communication is any more protracted than the phrases women identified in use as above. Using people's names is surely the first step in the personalised care we are seeking to provide and part of the Better Births values.

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