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The use of gender-neutral language in maternity settings: a narrative literature review

02 September 2023
Volume 31 · Issue 9
 Routine examinations such as palpation can help to recognise adverse events
Routine examinations such as palpation can help to recognise adverse events



Midwives are vital healthcare professionals that are autonomous and passionate specialists on women, pregnancy, birthing and families. Staying up to date with contemporary issues enhances their ability to provide high-quality evidence-based care. One aspect of maternal care that is changing is the use of gender-neutral language. The aim of this review was to examine the use of gender-neutral language in maternity settings and collate the literature to expose any knowledge gaps.


A narrative literature review was conducted, using primary research and literature reviews from the Cochrane Library, CINAHL and MEDLINE databases. A total of 106 articles were included.


Data analysis yielded four themes: etymology and the origins of language in maternity, the effects of language in maternity, attitudes, and social media and language. The literature identified the perspective of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer or questioning, asexual and other sexually or gender diverse population who have accessed maternity and childcare services. Not all literature was maternity specific, but provided insight into how to improve maternity services.


It is recommended that education be provided for healthcare professionals when working with the LGBTIQA+ community. Updating paperwork and policies at a structural level will have a vast impact holistically on LGBTIQA+ maternity consumers.

It is reported that a growing number of people are moving away from the traditional norms of gender, and identifying themselves as transgender and non-binary. In 2018, UK statistics saw a rise of 53.2% of parents who identified as LGBTIQA+ (Gabb and Allen, 2020). The term ‘transgender’ describes people who identify with a gender different from that assigned at birth (Berger et al, 2015). The term ‘non-binary’ refers to people who identify as either male, female or neither (Jennings et al, 2022). In addition to these two definitions, there are people who have a fluid gender identity, but to encompass the range of groups of people who identify as neither male nor female, they usually identify as non-binary (National Centre for Transgender Equality, 2016). A full glossary of terms is shown in Table 1.

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