On 19 August 2021, the National Institute for Health and Social Care Guidance ([NICE], 2021) published new antenatal guidelines for midwives. The purpose of these updated guidelines is to ensure pregnant people, which includes people who do not necessarily identify as women but who can fall pregnant (for the purpose of this Editorial, the term ‘women’ will include all pregnant people), receive the necessary information, support and care throughout their pregnancy. It covers ‘organisation and delivery of antenatal care’, ‘routine antenatal clinical care’, ‘information and support for pregnant women and their partners’, and ‘interventions for common problems during pregnancy’.
The major positive takeaway from this update is the fact women are rightly being placed at the centre of care. Their thoughts, opinions and feelings need to be listened to and taken seriously. A case in point, one of the key communication principles set out in the guidelines is that ‘women's decisions should be respected, even when this is contrary to the views of the healthcare professional’ and that midwives need to ‘ensure that when offering any assessment, intervention or procedure, the risks, benefits and implications are discussed with the woman and she is aware that she has a right to decline’ (NICE, 2021).
The notion of women-centred care being accepted as part of NICE guidelines is an incredible feat as it allows women to have a voice in their pregnancy. ‘As midwives, we really welcome this updated antenatal care guideline because it recommends what the Royal College of Midwives ([RCM], 2021) has long said, that placing women at the centre of their own care is crucial to improving pregnancy outcomes for both mother and baby,’ says Dr Mary Ross-Davie, Director for Professional Midwifery for RCM. ‘It's so important for midwives to promote informed choice and during pregnancy, midwives will share all available evidence-based information to enable the women to make decisions about their care that's right for them.’
Continuity of care is also encouraged, as it allows women to form a trusting bond with their midwife. However, as Dr Ross-Davie explains, ‘in order to provide this continuity, where a woman is able to get to know her midwife during her pregnancy, we must ensure we have enough midwives’ (RCM, 2021).