Andaroon N, Kordi M, Kimiaei SA, Esmaeily H. The effect of individual counseling program by a midwife on fear of childbirth in primiparous women. J Educ Health Promot.. 2017; 6:(6)

Attanasio L, Kozhimannil KB. Patient-reported communication quality and perceived discrimination in maternity care. Med Care. 2015; 53:(10)863-871

Baker C. NHS Staff from Overseas: Statistics: Briefing paper 7783.London: House of Commons Library; 2018

Beauchamp T, Childress J. Principles of Biomedical Ethics.New York (NY): Oxford University Press; 2001

Binder P, Borné Y, Johnsdotter S, Essén B. Shared language is essential: communication in a multiethnic obstetric care setting. J Health Commun. 2012; 17:(10)1171-1186

Dahm MR. Tales of time, terms, and patient information-seeking behavior-an exploratory qualitative study. Health Commun.. 2012; 27:(7)682-689 11.629411

De Benedictis S, Johnson C, Roberts J, Spiby H. Quantitative insights into televised birth: a content analysis of One Born Every Minute. Critical Studies in Media Communication. 2019; 36:(1)1-17

Compassion in Practice. Nursing, Midwifery and Care Staff: Our vision and strategy.London: DH; 2012

The NHS Constitution: the NHS belongs to us all.DH: London; 2015

Fields AM, Freiberg CS, Fickenscher A, Shelley KH. Patients and jargon: are we speaking the same language?. J Clin Anesth. 2008; 20:(5)343-346 jclinane.2008.02.006

Foronda C, MacWilliams B, McArthur E. Interprofessional communication in healthcare: an integrative review. Nurse Educ Pract.. 2016; 19:36-40 nepr.2016.04.005

Goldberger JJ, Kruse J, Kadish AH, Passman R, Bergner DW. Effect of informed consent format on patient anxiety, knowledge, and satisfaction. Am Heart J.. 2011; 162:(4)780-785.e1

Graves K. The Hypnobirthing Book.London: Katharine Publishing; 2017

Hong Y, Ehlers K, Gillis R, Patrick T, Zhang J. A usability study of patient-friendly terminology in an EMR system. Stud Health Technol Inform. 2010; 160:(Pt 1)136-140

Howick J, Moscrop A, Mebius A Effects of empathic and positive communication in healthcare consultations: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J R Soc Med. 2018; 111:(7)240-252

Saving Lives, Improving Mothers' Care:- Surveillance of maternal deaths in the UK 2011-13 and lessons learned to inform maternity care from the UK and Ireland Confidential Enquiries into Maternal Deaths and Morbidity 2009-13. In: Knight M, Tuffnell D, Kenyon S, Shakespeare J, Gray R, Kurinczuk JJ (eds). Oxford: National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit, University of Oxford; 2015

Levinson W, Lesser CS, Epstein RM. Developing physician communication skills for patient-centered care. Health Aff.. 2010; 29:(7)1310-1318

Lyberg A, Viken B, Haruna M, Severinsson E. Diversity and challenges in the management of maternity care for migrant women. J Nurs Manag.. 2012; 20:(2)287-295

Meddings F, Haith-Cooper M. Culture and communication in ethically appropriate care. Nurs Ethics. 2008; 15:(1)52-61

Merton RK. The self-fulfilling prophecy. The Antioch Review. 1948; 8:(2)

Mone F, Adams B, Manderson JG, McAuliffe FM. The East Timorese: a high-risk ethnic minority in UK obstetrics: a cohort study. J Matern Fetal Neonatal Med. 2015; 28:(13)1594-1597

Pregnancy and complex social factors: a model for service provision for pregnant women with complex social factors [CG110].London: NICE; 2010

Intrapartum care for healthy women and babies [CG190].London: NICE; 2017

Better Births: Improving Outcomes of Maternity Services in England.London: NHS England; 2016

Five Year Forward View.London: NHS England; 2014

NHS England Accessible Information and Communication Policy.Leeds: NHS England; 2016

Standards for pre-registration midwifery education.London: NMC; 2009

The Code: Professional standards of practice and behaviour for nurses and midwives.London: NMC; 2018

Omoruyi EA, Dunkle J, Dendy C, McHugh E, Barratt MS. Cross Talk: evaluation of a curriculum to teach medical students how to use telephone interpreter services. Acad Pediatr.. 2018; 18:(2)214-219 acap.2017.11.010

Pechak C, Summers C, Velasco J. Improved knowledge following an interprofessional interpreter-use training. J Allied Health. 2018; 47:(3)159-166

Puthussery S, Twamley K, Macfarlane A, Harding S, Baron M. ‘You need that loving tender care’: maternity care experiences and expectations of ethnic minority women born in the United Kingdom. J Health Serv Res Policy. 2010; 15:(3)156-162

Roter DL, Erby L, Larson S, Ellington L. Oral literacy demand of prenatal genetic counseling dialogue: predictors of learning. Patient Educ Couns.. 2009; 75:(3)392-397

Sartorius R. Paternalism.Minneapolis (MN): University of Minnesota Press; 1983

Serçekus P, Baskale H. Effects of antenatal education on fear of childbirth, maternal self-efficacy and parental attachment. Midwifery. 2016; 34:166-172 midw.2015.11.016

Small R, Roth C, Raval M, Shafiei T, Korfker D, Heaman M, McCourt C, Gagnon A. Immigrant and non-immigrant women's experiences of maternity care: a systematic and comparative review of studies in five countries. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth. 2014; 14:(1)

Stapleton H, Murphy R, Kildea S. Lost in translation: staff and interpreters' experiences of the edinburgh postnatal depression scale with women from refugee backgrounds. Issues Ment Health Nurs.. 2013; 34:(9)648-657

Steele CM. The psychology of self-affirmation: sustaining the integrity of the self. Adv Exp Soc Psychol.. 1988; 21:261-302

Subramaniam R, Sanjeev R, Kuruvilla S, Joy M, Muralikrishnan B, Paul J. Jargon: A barrier in case history taking? - A cross-sectional survey among dental students and staff. Dent Res J.. 2017; 14:(3)203-208

Tobin C, Murphy-Lawless J. Irish midwives' experiences of providing maternity care to non-Irish women seeking asylum. Int J Womens Health. 2014; 6:159-169

UK Visas and Administration. Guidance for Interpreters. 2015. (accessed 15 April 2019)

Vermeir P, Vandijck D, Degroote S, Peleman R, Verhaeghe R, Mortier E, Hallaert G, Van Daele S, Buylaert W, Vogelaers D. Communication in healthcare: a narrative review of the literature and practical recommendations. Int J Clin Pract.. 2015; 69:(11)1257-1267

Vranceanu AM, Elbon M, Adams M, Ring D. The emotive impact of medical language. Hand (N Y). 2012; 7:(3)293-296

Standards for Improving Quality of Maternal and Newborn Care in Healthcare Facilities.Geneva: WHO; 2016

Yelland J, Riggs E, Small R, Brown S. Maternity services are not meeting the needs of immigrant women of non-English speaking background: results of two consecutive Australian population based studies. Midwifery. 2015; 31:(7)664-670

The importance of language in maternity services

02 May 2019
6 min read
Volume 27 · Issue 5


An essential element of communication in maternity services is the use of language. This article will examine three key themes in the use of language: medical jargon, emotive language and those for whom English is not a first language. Medical jargon detracts from patient autonomy, and emotive language can influence women's mindset and experience both positively and negatively. When English is not an individual's first language, women feel defenceless and lack understanding. This can be mitigated by the use of an interpreter; however, their misuse, or a health professional's inexperience in using them, can limit their effectiveness.

Communication is imperative for high-quality, safe healthcare (Levinson et al, 2010; Vermeir et al, 2015; Foronda et al, 2016). Communication between patients, health professionals and local communities has been central to healthcare improvement strategies such as the 6Cs (Department of Health, 2012), Better Births (National Maternity Review, 2016) and the Five Year Forward View (NHS England et al, 2014). Furthermore, poor communication has been linked to compromised patient safety, negative patient experiences and inefficient physician worktime (Vermeir et al, 2015) and in maternity services, has been shown to make women in labour feel less in control and more negative about their experiences (World Health Organization (WHO), 2016; National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), 2017). To improve and advance communication, NHS England created an accessible information and communication policy (NHS England Patient and Public Participation and Insight Group, 2016) that outlines the importance of accessible, inclusive information and communication for all, supporting the NHS Constitution's key principle that the patient will be at the heart of everything that it does (Department of Health, 2015). A central method of communication is the use of language. Language is both used and experienced by all health professionals and those in their care, and so the use of medical jargon, positively or negatively skewed phrasing and for those for whom English is not a first language should all be considered. This article will explore each of these elements of language within maternity services and their context within patient safety and experience.

Register now to continue reading

Thank you for visiting British Journal of Midwifery and reading some of our peer-reviewed resources for midwives. To read more, please register today. You’ll enjoy the following great benefits:

What's included

  • Limited access to our clinical or professional articles

  • New content and clinical newsletter updates each month