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Midwives' decision making during normal labour and birth: a decision making framework

02 November 2022
Volume 30 · Issue 11



Understanding how midwives make decisions and what influences those decisions during labour and birth might illuminate why childbirth is straightforward for some women but needs a more interventionist route for others. The aim of this study was to explore midwifery decision-making during normal labour and birth.


An interpretivist epistemology with a case-study approach was used for this study, which involved data collection at two case sites. The participants were midwives on duty at two labour suites of large regional teaching hospitals in the East Midlands. Focus group interviews, observations, diary keeping and documentary reviews were included.


There were five main themes. The central theme was ‘the hybrid midwife’. Within this theme, midwives were found to be operating in dualistic belief systems. They were operating between woman-centred, intuitive philosophies and associated decision-making approaches, and organisation-centred, hypothetico-deductive philosophies and related decision-making strategies. From the literature review and study findings, the situated, dynamic midwifery decision-making framework ‘focus on straightforward labour and birth’ was developed to assist in midwifery decision-making.


Decision-making in normal labour and birth is a complex phenomenon, influenced by many factors. Midwives have to balance decision-making strategies that are appropriate for childbearing women across all risk categories. However, they do not always appear to be fully prepared for the reality of decision-making in clinical practice.

Birth is a highly emotive experience. For many women, ‘it is a profoundly life-affirming experience, with the potential for long-term positive effects for the mother, baby and family, emotionally, psychologically, neurobiologically, and socially’ (Lynch, 2020). At the other extreme, it can be a devastating experience affecting every aspect of ‘self ’ for many years. It can have short- and long-term implications for maternal and infant wellbeing (Thompson and Feeley, 2019). Rites of passage, particularly in the first birth, change a mother (and her father/partner) fundamentally in terms of the social role that they will adopt, and for the woman, has the potential to affect every aspect of her health (Downe and Finlayson, 2016).

Normal straightforward childbirth for low-risk women is widely evidenced to confer the most beneficial physiological and biosocial outcomes for mothers and babies, when compared to technological childbirth (Buckley and Uvnas Moberg, 2019). It follows then that the decisions made during childbirth can greatly affect a woman's experience of labour and birth and subsequent health and wellbeing.

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