Category Archives: Maternity care

COVID-19 related maternity restrictions – more harm than good?

COVID-19 maternity care restrictions

During the global COVID-19 pandemic, maternity care guidelines have been produced rapidly and largely without evidence (Pavlidis et al., 2021). For example, US labour and birth guidelines encouraged providers to use artificial rupture of membranes; use higher doses of oxytocin to shorten length of labour; offer early epidurals; and lower the threshold for caesarean section (Stephens et al., 2020). Across the globe, women have experienced significant restrictions including prohibition of a birth companion in labour, limits around breastfeeding, and reduction in contact between mother and baby (Topalidou et al., 2020). While pregnant women commonly feel fear, stress, or concern about loss of agency during childbirth – COVID-19 has amplified these experiences by adding unknown factors about labour support and medical interventions (Almeida et al., 2020). Fears about restrictions include having to choose between a partner and a doula for labour support, or not having a labour support person at all, and fear of being separated from their baby after birth (Groschow & Floyd, 2021).

In the US, Gutschow & Davis-Floyd (2021) report recent lifting of non-evidence-based restrictions in terms of labour support, immediate skin-to-skin contact, breastfeeding and rooming-in. In Australia, however, there is community concern about increased maternity care restrictions on presence of partners at birth and on the postnatal ward, as reported by the ABC and Guardian. Researchers worldwide have raised concerns about the potential for restrictions to have long-term negative clinical and psychosocial consequences for mothers, families, and babies (Topalidou et al., 2020).

Women’s right to clinically and psychologically safe care

An article was recently published by a team who work across Europe “to ensure women’s rights to give birth in a clinically and psychologically safe environment including during the current COVID-19 pandemic” (Lalor et al., 2021). The commentary includes findings from a two-day virtual meeting of the network that included 88 clinicians and researchers from a variety of disciplines (e.g., midwifery, obstetrics, nursing, psychology) alongside lay advocacy groups from altogether 32 participating countries (Lalor et al., 2021). Information about variations in maternity care and COVID-19 related restrictions were discussed and summarised (Lalor et al., 2021).

Maternity care restrictions inconsistent and without evidence-base

The application of guidelines and restrictions was highly inconsistent between European countries (Lalor et al., 2021). Furthermore, local application of non-evidence-based restrictions significantly deviated from recommendations from the World Health Organization and professional bodies (Lalor et al., 2021). Similar international inconsistencies have been reported in intrapartum care practices outside Europe – including Australia and the United States. For example, use of nitrous oxide and water immersion during labour, birth companions, delayed cord clamping, and isolation of the newborn after birth (Pavlidis et al., 2020).

Lalor et al. (2021) raise concerns that women are being exposed to an environment where traumatic birth experiences are more likely – and where the continued implementation of harmful practices constitute a human rights violation (Lalor et al., 2021). The authors highlight that maternity care providers may be following guidelines that contradict with evidence, professional recommendations and/or deeply held values around woman-centred care – which in turn affects staff morale and productivity (Lalor et al., 2021). Indeed, a survey of key stakeholders in Australian maternity care reported that midwives and midwifery students are largely dissatisfied with restrictions that limit the quality of care they can provide (Bradfield et al., 2021).

Recommendations for maternity services and policymakers

Renfrew et al. (2020) provide key principles for services to sustain quality care during the pandemic. These include continuing to provide “evidence-informed, equitable, safe, respectful, and compassionate care for the physical and mental health of all women and newborn infants, wherever and whenever care takes place” (Renfrew et al., 2020). More specifically they recommend maintaining community-based continuity of care models, ensuring access to chosen birth support, facilitating mother-baby contact at birth, and promoting breastfeeding (Renfrew et al., 2020).

Any proposed change to maternity care practice must be considered within a quality framework, based on evidence, and evaluated for unintended effects (Lalor et al., 2021). Furthermore, women, families and staff should co-design proposed changes (Renfrew et al., 2020). Policies in response to COVID-19 have not been sensitive to maternal health – this could be addressed through the inclusion of maternal health experts in emergency planning – as well as rapid monitoring of barriers to maternity care (Takemoto et al., 2021).

Highlighted research

Lalor, J., Ayers, S., Celleja, J., Downe, S., Gouni, O., Hartmann, K., Nieuwenhuijze, M., Oosterman, M. Turner, J. D. (accepted in press, 2021). Balancing restrictions and access to maternity care for women and birthing partners during the COVID-19 pandemic: the psychosocial impact of suboptimal care. BJOG


Almeida M, Shrestha A. D., Stojanac B., Miller L J. (2020). The impact of the pandemic of women’s mental health. Archives Women’s Mental Health 23 (7), 741-748.

Bradfield, Z., Wynter, K., Hauck, Y., Vasilevski, V., Kuliukas, L., Wilson, A. N., Szabo, R. A., Homer, C., & Sweet, L. (2021). Experiences of receiving and providing maternity care during the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia: A five-cohort cross-sectional comparison. PloS one16(3), e0248488.

Gutschow, K., & Davis-Floyd, R. (2021). The Impacts of COVID-19 on US Maternity Care Practices: A Followup Study. Frontiers in Sociology6, 655401.

Pavlidis, P., Eddy, K., Phung, K., Farrington, E., Connolly, M., Lopes, R., Wilson, A.N., Homer, C.S.E., Vogel, P. (2020). Clinical guidelines for caring for women with COVID-19 during pregnancy, childbirth, and the immediate postpartum period. Women and Birth.

Renfrew, M. J., Cheyne, H., Craig, J., Duff, E., Dykes, F., Hunter, B., Lavender, T., Page, L., Ross-Davie, M., Spiby, H., & Downe, S. (2020). Sustaining quality midwifery care in a pandemic and beyond. Midwifery88, 102759.

Stephens A. J., Barton J. R., Bentum N.-A. A., Blackwell S. C., Sibai B. M. (2020). General Guidelines in the Management of an Obstetrical Patient on the Labor and Delivery Unit during the COVID-19 Pandemic. American Journal of Perinatolology, 37, 08, 829–836.

Topalidou, A., Thomson, G., Downe, S. (2020). COVID-19 and maternal and infant health: Are we getting the balance right? A rapid scoping review. The Practising Midwife, 23, 36- 45.


Decisions aids & staff training needed for shared decision making

Rising rates of induction and caesarean

In high-income countries, rates of induction of labour and caesarean section (CS) are rising at an alarming rate. In Australia, almost 1 in 2 women having their first baby will be induced (45%) (AIHW, 2020a) – while more than 1 in 3 will experience CS (37%) (AIHW, 2020b). While planned vaginal birth after caesarean (VBAC) is a safe choice for most women, the rate of successful VBAC in Australia remains low (12%) (AIHW, 2020b). The recent Australian Atlas on Variation in Healthcare reported that about half of CS performed at < 39 weeks’ gestation had no medical or obstetric indication for the surgical procedure (ACSQHC, 2021). The few studies on women’s experiences of decision-making about induction report women are not actively involved in the decision (Coates et al., 2021). The International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics suggests that “properly informing” women about the risks and benefits of CS would effectively reduce CS (Visser et al., 2018).

Shared decision making

Shared decision making (SDM) is a process where clinicians facilitate people to reach “evidence-informed and value-congruent” decisions about their healthcare (Grad et al., 2017, p.682). In other words, a semi-structured conversation that includes explanation of the problem, the risks and benefits of different options, the woman’s desires and circumstances, and the provider’s recommendations (Legare et al., 2018). SDM is particularly important when the difference between risks and benefits of available options is marginal (Grad et al., 2017); as is often the case for induction of labour and planned CS (Coates et al, 2021, Coates et al., 2020).

Shared decision making and caesarean section

Researchers wanted to find out what is known about SDM and planned CS. Specifically, Coates et al. (2020) were interested in:

  • what women need to make informed decisions;
  • what women know about the risks and benefits of CS;
  • what interventions works to facilitate informed decision-making; and
  • what clinicians think about SDM.

The authors used key terms and a list of criteria to systematically search the literature. They included studies in their review that addressed the research aims and were either quantitative research (measurements and statistics) or qualitative research (participant accounts and experiences). The researchers then used an assessment tool to rate the quality of the studies included in the review.

Key findings

Coates et al. (2020) review included 34 studies. Most studies were about women’s experiences of decision-making (22 studies), many were about where women source information to make decisions (11 studies), some were about women’s knowledge of the risks and benefits of CS (7 studies) or interventions to assist women with decision-making (7 studies), and 6 studies were about clinicians’ perceptions of SDM.

There were two main findings from this review. First, women reported limited SDM in relation to CS, and many did not have the information required to make informed decisions (Coates et al., 2020). Second, while clinicians tended to agree with SDM they acknowledged it rarely occurs in practice (Coates et al., 2020).

Shared decision making and induction

The key findings about limited SDM when planning CS, are echoed in Coates et al. (2021) latest article about induction of labour. Here the researchers analysed women’s accounts (collected through telephone interviews). The findings were summarised as:

  • women told they needed an induction rather than being offered a choice;
  • women had little information and limited/no discussion about pros and cons;
  • women perceived they got conflicting information; and
  • women were not prepared for the process of induction.

Implementing shared decision making

Whether the decision is about CS or induction, most women want information so they can weigh up the pros and cons of available options before they make a decision. Many maternity care providers have not received training in SDM, or the high-level communication skills that underpin it (Coates & Clerke, 2020). Therefore, maternity services could provide obstetricians and midwives training in SDM so they have the skills required to help women make informed decisions.

Decision aids in pregnancy increase women’s knowledge and reduce decision-making conflict and anxiety (Vlemmix et al., 2013). Coates et al. (2021) support the development and testing of decision aids for induction because there are currently no high-quality decision aids available. Interestingly, advances in artificial intelligence, machine learning and risk prediction analytics have opened up the opportunity to use this data to predict the likely short- and long-term outcomes of decision-making. In maternity care, such approaches have been used to predict hypertensive disorders (Betts et al., 2019),  stillbirth (Koivu et al., 2020), and preterm birth (Moreira et al., 2018). But to date none have been incorporated into a decision aid to help women make evidence-informed decisions.

Highlighted research

Coates, D., Thirukumar, P., Henry, A. (2021). The experiences of shared decision-making of women who had an induction of labour. Patient Education and Counseling, 104(3), 489-495.

Coates, D., Thirukumar, P., Henry, A. (2020). Making shared decisions in relation to planned caesarean sections: What are we up to? Patient Education and Counseling, 103(6), 1176-1190.


Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (1993). Caesarean births in Australia, 1985-1990. Canberra: AIHW.

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2020a). National Core Maternity Indicators 2018: summary report. Canberra: AIHW.

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2020b) Australia’s Mothers and Babies 2018 – In Brief. Canberra: AIHW.

Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. The Fourth Australian Atlas of Healthcare Variation. Sydney: ACSQHC; 2021.

Betts K, Kisely S, Alati R. (2019). Predicting common maternal postpartum complications: leveraging health administrative data and machine learning. BJOG, 126, 702-709.

Coates D., & Clerke T. (2020). Training interventions to equip healthcare professionals with shared decision-making skills: a systematic scoping review. Journal of Continuing Education for Health Professionals, 40, 100-119.

Grad et al. (2017). Shared decision making in preventive health care: What it is, what it is not. Canadian Family Physician, 63(9), 682-684.

Koivu A, Sairanen M. (2020). Health information science and systems, 8, 1-12.

Legare, F, et al. (2018). Interventions for increasing the use of shared decision making by healthcare professionals. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 7. Cd006732

Moreira M, Rodrigues J, Marcondes G, Neto A, Kumar N, Diez I.  (2018). A preterm birth risk prediction system for mobile health applications based on the support vector machine algorithm.  International Conference on Communications (ICC), IEEE, 1-5.

Vlemmix, F, Warendorf, J, Rosman, A, Kok, M, Mol, B, Morris, J, Nassar, N. (2013). Aids to improve informed decision-making in pregnancy care: a systematic review. BJOG, 120, 257– 266

Visser GHA, Ayres-de-Campos D, Barnea ER, et al. (2018). FIGO position paper: how to stop the caesarean section epidemic. Lancet392(10155), 1286-7.


Midwifery centres – the what, the how, the why

Women across the globe (in low-, middle- and high-income countries) are concerned about misuse of medical intervention, and disrespectful or abusive treatment during labour and birth (World Health Organization, 2014). For example, in Mexico where the caesarean section rate is 50%, 30% of women report they have experienced ‘obstetric violence’ (Alonso et al., 2018). Whereas the poorest women in Sub Saharan Africa usually give birth at home either unattended (56%) or with a traditional birth attendant (41%), because they lack access to a skilled birth attendant, or do not think one is needed (Montagu et al., 2011). Midwifery centres – also known as birth centres – are sought by women who want to experience safe, respectful, and satisfying birth in a facility, while avoiding unnecessary intervention (Stevens & Alonso, 2020).

What is a midwifery centre?

A Midwifery Centre is a home-like healthcare facility that is guided by a midwifery philosophy of care, centred on the woman’s experience, specialising in physiological birth, with access to basic emergency care, and fully integrated within the healthcare system (Stevens & Alonso, 2020). Midwifery centres operate all over the world in over 56 countries – see map here. While midwifery centres could be key to achieving quality maternal and newborn care, there are negative perceptions about their capacity, limited understanding of what midwives do, and lack of access globally.

Midwifery centres in high-income countries

In high-income countries (e.g., Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, United States) highest-level evidence demonstrates women who plan to birth in a midwifery centre have a higher chance of normal birth, with a lower chance of obstetric intervention, and no difference in infant mortality (Scarf et al., 2018). Approximately 3% of women in Australia give birth in a midwifery centre. A study in one Australian state determined that 34% of women having their first baby, and 12% of women having a subsequent baby, were transferred from a midwifery centre and gave birth in hospital (Scarf et al., 2019). While there has been a near doubling of demand for midwifery centres in Australia over the past two decades, access has remained limited and birth numbers in midwifery centres have been static (Adelson et al., 2021).

Midwifery centres in low-income countries

In low- and middle- income countries, less is known about the outcomes associated with midwifery centre care. In these settings, there are challenges including lack of equipment, supplies, medication, blood, electricity and water; combined with difficulty transferring women to higher level care when needed either through lack of transport or women’s unwillingness to access hospital care (Munabi-Babigumira et al., 2017). Furthermore, midwifery centres in low- and middle- income countries tend to operate outside the healthcare system. Safe and respectful care, with seamless access to higher level services when required, is key to increasing access to skilled birth attendants in low- and middle-income countries; and therefore, addressing maternal and infant mortality in these settings.

How standards contribute to quality care

Without international standards, including a consensus definition of what a midwifery centre is (and is not), it is difficult to implement, monitor, evaluate and scale up.  Rigorously developed international standards guide funders, policy makers, managers and maternity advocates. It is important to be able to measure and compare outcomes between midwifery centres within and between countries, while accounting for variation in the population.

Development of international standards

Researchers Stevens & Alonso (2021) wanted to develop clear guidance through international standards to ensure the quality of care provided in midwifery centres. To do this, they initially gathered midwifery centre operation standards from the United States and Europe and compared these with international guidance on quality of maternal and newborn care, rights of childbearing women, and respectful maternity care (Stevens & Alonso, 2021). The research team analysed the documents to determine commonalities and to develop draft international standards. Next, international experts in low-, middle- and high-income settings provided feedback on the draft standards. The researchers then piloted 52 standards at 8 midwifery centres in 8 countries (Sierra Leone, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Mexico, Haiti, Peru, Uganda, and Trinidad) (Stevens & Alonso, 2021). Discussions with the pilot sites helped determine the final list.

Assessing how midwifery centres meet international standards

The Operational Standards for Midwifery Centers are freely available here. There are 43 process standards in three domains: Dignity, Quality, and Community-Facility (Stevens & Alonso, 2021). Each standard includes indicators which can be used to measure and assess whether, and how, the standard is met. Dignity includes 13 standards that are focussed on the woman. For example, Standard 10 Every mother is informed about the benefits of supporting physiological processes, includes indicators like policy, and woman’s health record. Quality includes 13 standards that are focussed on the maternity care providers. For example, Standard 24 At every birth, there are at least two staff currently trained for emergency management of common birth complications, can be assessed through staff education logs and birth documentation. Community-Facility includes 17 standards that are about administration. For example, Standard 31 The facility has functioning, reliable, safe, and sufficient systems for each of the following: clean water, dependable energy, facility sanitation, hand hygiene, general waste disposal, and medical waste disposal, can be assessed through availability of policies and procedures.

Primary midwifery care is the solution

Some argue that universal access to high-quality obstetric care and facility-based birth is the path to address maternal and infant mortality in low- and middle-income countries (Bohren et al., 2014). From this perspective, midwives are seen as an ‘add on’ to provide emotional support during obstetric-led birth (Austad et al., 2021). An alternative solution, that would address women’s expressed desires to birth close to home, with minimal intervention, and avoid disrespectful care, would be to rapidly scale up midwifery centres that meet international standards. Primary midwifery care should be the foundation of any maternity system. Midwives need to be supported in systems and health services to deliver care and outcomes for women and babies.

Scale-up of midwifery centres

Using the term ‘midwifery centre’ instead of ‘birth centre’ may help reorient thinking about how best to organise and provide quality maternal and newborn care. In high-income settings, a midwifery centre is not a room with an armchair and a birth pool within an obstetric-led unit. Midwifery centres are midwifery-led, woman-centred – designed to promote physiological birth and enable midwives to work to their full scope of practice. In low- and middle-income settings, a facility outside the hospital that offers birth care, but is not fully integrated to enable consultation, referral and transfer to higher level services, is also not a midwifery centre. The consensus definition and operational standards can be used in any global setting to establish, monitor and scale-up midwifery centres.

Highlighted research

Stevens, J. R., & Alonso, C. (2021). Developing operational standards for Midwifery Centers. Midwifery, 93, 102882.


Adelson, P., Fleet, J. A., McKellar, L., & Eckert, M. (2021). Two decades of Birth Centre and midwifery-led care in South Australia, 1998-2016. Women and Birth34(1), e84–e91.

Alonso, C., Storey, A. S., Fajardo, I., & Borboleta, H. S. (2021). Emergent change in a Mexican midwifery center organization amidst the COVID-19 crisis. Frontiers in Sociology6, 611321.

Austad, K., Juarez, M., Shryer, H. et al. (2021). Improving the experience of facility-based delivery for vulnerable women through obstetric care navigation: a qualitative evaluation. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, 21, 425.

Bohren, M.A., Hunter, E.C., Munthe-Kaas, H.M. et al. (2014). Facilitators and barriers to facility-based delivery in low- and middle-income countries: a qualitative evidence synthesis. Reproductive Health, 11, 71.

Montagu D, Yamey G, Visconti A, Harding A, Yoong J (2011) Where Do Poor Women in Developing Countries Give Birth? A Multi-Country Analysis of Demographic and Health Survey Data. PLOS ONE, 6(2): e17155.

Munabi-Babigumira, S., Glenton, C., Lewin, S., Fretheim, A., & Nabudere, H. (2017). Factors that influence the provision of intrapartum and postnatal care by skilled birth attendants in low- and middle-income countries: a qualitative evidence synthesis. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews11(11), CD011558.

Scarf, V. L., Viney, R., Yu, S., Foureur, M., Rossiter, C., Dahlen, H., Thornton, C., Cheah, S. L., & Homer, C. (2019). Mapping the trajectories for women and their babies from births planned at home, in a birth centre or in a hospital in New South Wales, Australia, between 2000 and 2012. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth19(1), 513.

Scarf, V. L., Rossiter, C., Vedam, S., Dahlen, H. G., Ellwood, D., Forster, D., . . . Homer, C. S. E. (2018). Maternal and perinatal outcomes by planned place of birth among women with low-risk pregnancies in high-income countries: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Midwifery, 62, 240-255.

Stevens, J. R., & Alonso, C. (2020). Commentary: Creating a definition for global midwifery centers. Midwifery, 85, 102684.

World Health Organization. (2014). Prevention and elimination of disrespect and abuse during childbirth. Retrieved from:

Strategies that work to increase vaginal birth rate after caesarean

Vaginal birth after caesarean around the world

VBAC is a vaginal birth after caesarean section. While planned VBAC is a safe choice for most women, rates of VBAC vary considerably. VBAC rates are high in countries like Finland, Sweden and Netherlands (approximately 50%), lower in Ireland, Scotland, Italy, Spain and Germany (approximately 30%), and lowest in countries like the US and Australia (approximately 12%) (Lundgren et al., 2020). Indeed, the rate of successful VBAC in Australia has remained stagnant over the past decade – 13.1% in 2007 to 12.1% in 2018 (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2020).

Research finds that in settings where rates are low , VBAC is not considered the obvious first choice for most women (Lundgren et al., 2020). Furthermore, obstetricians tend to determine whether VBAC should be attempted in countries with low-rates rather than women themselves (Lundgren et al., 2020). In a recent US study, women described having to “fight hard” for a VBAC including navigating obstacles, finding a supportive care provider, and sometimes travelling long distances to access care (Basile Ibrahim et al. 2021). Wingert et al. (2018) conducted a systematic review of all studies that had looked at the impact of interventions (e.g., education) on planned and/or successful VBAC rates.

Strategies for maternity care providers

Education for healthcare providers about the benefits of VBAC was effective, particularly when it was provided by a respected obstetric opinion leader (Wingert et al., 2018). When doctors were required to seek a second opinion from an obstetrician – regarding first or subsequent caesarean section (CS) – the rates of planned and successful VBACs increased (Wingert et al., 2018). Furthermore, having a night float on-call system which uses doctors who were more rested, compared to doctors on a 24-hour on-call shift, increased VBAC success rates (Wingert et al., 2021). 

Strategies for pregnant and birthing women

The systematic review included several studies that assessed the usefulness of a decision aid, compared to no decision aid, for women choosing between VBAC and CS for their next birth. Every decision aid was associated with an increase in women’s knowledge and decrease in their anxiety about decision –  but none of the decision aids made a difference to planned VBAC rates (Wingert et al., 2018).

Health system strategies

Providing hospitals funding contingent on increasing VBAC rates was an effective strategy in one study (Wingert et al., 2018). Models of care – midwifery continuity of carer, midwifery antenatal continuity, and dedicated VBAC antenatal clinics – were associated with higher rates of planned and successful VBAC compared to standard care (Wingert et al., 2018).

Midwifery continuity of carer models

Women’s experiences of planned VBAC in midwifery continuity of carer models were more positive than standard care (Keedle et al., 2020). For example, women were more likely to feel in control of their decision making and feel their health care provider positively supported their decision to have a VBAC.  Furthermore, women with a known midwife were more likely to have been active in labour, labour in water, and use an upright birth position (Keedle et al., 2020).

A small randomised trial aimed to compare a midwifery continuity of carer model (antenatal, birth, postnatal), with a midwifery antenatal continuity model, on VBAC rates (Homer et al., 2021). In this study, there was no significant difference between midwifery continuity of carer or antenatal continuity for planned VBAC (67% vs 57%) or VBAC success (28% vs 33%)  (Homer et al., 2021). However, the likely reason was that both models were similar to each other (i.e. women saw a similar number of midwives antenatally and during labour and birth) (Homer et al., 2021). Therefore, a trial of midwifery continuity of carer – using a model where a genuine and trusting relationship can develop between midwife and woman – is still required (Homer et al., 2021).

Recommendations to support VBAC

Health services should increase access to models of care that include a significant role for midwives, and use evidence-based strategies that proactively encourage vaginal birth for women after previous CS (Davis et al., 2020).

Maternity care providers can facilitate women to plan a VBAC by providing information in a supportive way, viewing VBAC as the first alternative in the absence of complications, and helping women to ‘let go’ of their previous childbirth experience to prepare for their next birth (Nilsson et al., 2017). The discussion of risks and benefits for next birth after CS, should include information about recovery from surgical birth (Davis et al., 2020). During labour, midwives and obstetricians can help women achieve a VBAC by offering calm and confident support  (Nilsson et al., 2017).

A national mass media public health campaign about the benefits of VBAC has been an effective strategy in one country with low rates of planned VBAC. Women who viewed the campaign had increased self-reported knowledge, positive attitude towards VBAC and higher intention toward VBAC (Majilesi et al., 2020). A similar campaign could be considered in other countries with low rates of VBAC intention.

Highlighted research

Homer, C., Davis, D. L., Mollart, L., Turkmani, S., Smith, R. M., Bullard, M., Leiser, B., & Foureur, M. (2021). Midwifery continuity of care and vaginal birth after caesarean section: A randomised controlled trial. Women and Birth, S1871-5192(21)00089-5. Advance online publication.


Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2020). National Core Maternity Indicators 2018: summary report. Retrieved from Canberra:

Basile Ibrahim, B., Knobf, M. T., Shorten, A., Vedam, S., Cheyney, M., Illuzzi, J., & Kennedy, H. P. (2021). “I had to fight for my VBAC”: A mixed methods exploration of women’s experiences of pregnancy and vaginal birth after cesarean in the United States. Birth (Berkeley, Calif.)48(2), 164–177.

Davis, D., S Homer, C., Clack, D., Turkmani, S., & Foureur, M. (2020). Choosing vaginal birth after caesarean section: Motivating factors. Midwifery88, 102766.

Keedle, H., Peters, L., Schmied, V., Burns, E., Keedle, W., & Dahlen, H. G. (2020). Women’s experiences of planning a vaginal birth after caesarean in different models of maternity care in Australia. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth20(1), 381.

Lundgren, I., Morano, S., Nilsson, C., Sinclair, M., & Begley, C. (2020). Cultural perspectives on vaginal birth after previous caesarean section in countries with high and low rates – A hermeneutic study. Women Birth, 33(4), e339-e347.

Majlesi, M., Montazeri, A., Rakhshani, F., Nouri-Khashe-Heiran, E., & Akbari, N. (2020). ‘No to unnecessary caesarean sections’: Evaluation of a mass-media campaign on women’s knowledge, attitude and intention for mode of delivery. PloS One15(8), e0235688.

Nilsson, C., van Limbeek, E., Vehvilainen-Julkunen, K., & Lundgren, I. (2017). Vaginal birth after cesarean: Views of women from countries with high VBAC rates. Qualitative Health Research27(3), 325–340.

Wingert, A., Johnson, C., Featherstone, R., Sebastianski, M., Hartling, L., & Douglas Wilson, R. (2018). Adjunct clinical interventions that influence vaginal birth after cesarean rates: Systematic review. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth18(1), 452.

Central fetal monitoring – time to de-implement?

Investment in fetal monitoring technology

Maternity services in high-income countries have invested heavily in medical technologies. However, some technologies have been implemented without clear evidence of clinical benefit or safety. Cardiotocograph (CTG) is commonly used to monitor the fetal heart rate in labour. Professional position statements and clinical guidelines recommend the use of CTG, despite highest-level evidence that it does not improve perinatal outcomes, even for women with risk factors (Small et al., 2020). See more here does-intrapartum-ctg-monitoring-save-lives. Furthermore, one of the unintended consequences of CTG has been escalating rates of caesarean section (Small et al., 2020).

Impact of fetal monitoring technology

Central  monitoring systems (CMS) transmit data from the CTG to a central site where it can be interpreted outside the room. CMS are being rolled out as a valuable add-on to CTGs, yet there have been no randomised trials of CMS. Indeed, the only evidence available is from three small studies that demonstrated CMS do not impact perinatal outcomes (Small et al., 2021). Furthermore, two of the studies measured an increase rates of instrumental birth and caesarean section after CMS was introduced (Brown et al., 2016; Weiss et al., 1997). Additional concerns include that midwives spend less time in the room with labouring women when these are CMS (Brown et al., 2016).

New research with clinicians in a setting with CMS

Obstetrician Dr Kirsten Small (PhD), project lead with Transforming Maternity Care Collaborative, conducted doctoral research about how CMS organise the work of maternity clinicians. Her PhD was supervised by Emeritus Professors Mary Sidebotham and Jenny Gamble, and Professor Jennifer Fenwick. Their latest publication describes how CMS affect maternity care providers clinical behaviours (Small et al., 2021). The setting for this qualitative study was a maternity hospital where 90% of women had a CTG in labour (all connected to a CMS). Thirty-six midwives (including midwifery students), and 16 doctors (including obstetric residents, registrars, and consultants) participated in the study. Dr Small interviewed (individually and in groups) and/or observed (e.g., when interacting with the CMS) participants and then led analysis of the data.

Undermining midwifery autonomy and compromising maternity care

The study found that clinicians outside the room made clinical decisions without all the relevant information, which potentially compromises safety (Small et al., 2021). Informants described how decisions were made, before engaging with the birthing woman and her midwife. Team leaders were perceived to check-in less with individual midwives (i.e., to get updated about the woman’s labour), if they could see that the CTG was normal.

Some midwives felt professionally disrespected by obstetricians, who would see the CMS and enter a room without invitation or permission (Small et al., 2021). This behaviour required midwives to de-escalate concerns, sometimes in a context of forceful obstetric communication. Importantly, this is the opposite of the usual process where midwives escalate concerns based on the midwife’s professional judgement. Taken together, making decisions outside the room, and coming into the room to then bypass or contradict the midwife’s interpretation of the CTG, was perceived to undermine women’s confidence in their midwife (Small et al., 2021).

Midwives lamented they were spending more time documenting on the CMS rather than being with woman. To limit disruptions to the birth space, midwives described changing their practice. For example, midwives limited women’s positions to ensure good contact for a CTG and directed women’s pushing efforts to speed up second stage labour. Informants described obstetricians acting on normal second stage decelerations (seen on the CMS), by performing surgical/instrumental birth.

Time to pause and consider next steps

Maternity services who are considering installation of CMS should pause – further research that demonstrates clinical benefit is required. Maternity services that have installed CMS, should rigorously evaluate the risks and benefits of these systems. Next steps may include the decision to de-implement CMS. De-implementation is the “process of identifying and removing harmful, non-cost-effective, or ineffective practices” (Upvall & Bourgault, 2018, p.495). Unlike implementation research, however, little is known about the process of de-implementation (van Bodegom-Vos et al., 2017). Three criteria have been suggested to help services identify which interventions are appropriate for de-implementation (McKay et al., 2018):

1) not effective or harmful; or

2) not the most effective or efficient to provide; or

3) no longer necessary.

Managers and service leaders have a responsibility to disinvest from technologies that meet any of these criteria.

Highlighted research

Small, K. A., Sidebotham, M., Fenwick, J., & Gamble, J. (2021). “I’m not doing what I should be doing as a midwife”: An ethnographic exploration of central fetal monitoring and perceptions of clinical safety. Women and Birth.


Brown, J., McIntyre, A., Gasparotto, R., & McGee, T. M. (2016). Birth outcomes, intervention frequency, and the disappearing Midwife—Potential hazards of central fetal monitoring: A single center review. Birth43(2), 100-107.

Burton, C., Williams, L., Bucknall, T. et al. (2019). Understanding how and why de-implementation works in health and care: research protocol for a realist synthesis of evidence. Systematic Reviews, 8(194).

McKay, V. R., Morshed, A. B., Brownson, R. C., Proctor, E. K., & Prusaczyk, B. (2018). Letting Go: Conceptualizing Intervention De-implementation in Public Health and Social Service Settings. American Journal of Community Psychology62(1-2), 189–202.

Small, K. A., Sidebotham, M., Fenwick, J., & Gamble, J. (2020). Intrapartum cardiotocograph monitoring and perinatal outcomes for women at risk: Literature review. Women and birth : journal of the Australian College of Midwives33(5), 411–418.

Upvall, M. J., & Bourgault, A. M. (2018). De-implementation: A concept analysis. Nursing forum, 10.1111/nuf.12256. Advance online publication.

van Bodegom-Vos L, Davidoff F, Marang-van de Mheen PJ. (2017). Implementation and de-implementation: two sides of the same coin? BMJ Quality & Safety, 26, 495-501.

Weiss, P. M., Balducci, J., Reed, J., Klasko, S. K., & Rust, O. A. (1997). Does centralized monitoring affect perinatal outcome?. The Journal of Maternal‐Fetal Medicine6(6), 317-319.

Withiam-Leitch, M., Shelton, J., & Fleming, E. (2007). Central fetal monitoring: Effect on perinatal outcomes and cesarean section rate. Obstetrical & gynecological survey62(4), 232-233.

Health services lack incentive to be cost-effective

Maternity service funding in Australia

Most maternity care funding is allocated to State and Territory health departments who then resource hospitals and health services. The funding given to health services is ‘activity-based’ which means the more episodes of care, and the more expensive types of care provided, the more funding the health services receive (COAG, 2014). Complex care (e.g., caesarean surgery, inpatient postnatal ward stay) costs more to provide, and therefore attracts more funding under this activity-based scheme, than normal birth with early discharge.  Therefore, health services may have no incentive to provide models of care that are cost-effective – even if they deliver better outcomes and experiences for women and babies.

Cost and benefits of maternity care up to 12-months after birth

Deputy Director of Transforming Maternity Care Collaborative, Associate Professor Emily Callander, is an expert in the health economics of maternity care. She recently led a study to determine the cost and benefit (in terms of quality of life) associated with public midwifery continuity of carer (Midwifery Group Practice – MGP)(Callander et al., 2021). MGP was compared with standard care, which included all other models of public maternity care, and excluded private obstetric/midwifery care.

The study collected data from 85 women who had continuity of carer and 72 women who had standard care, including data about their infants. The women in each group were similar in terms of parity, education, and insurance status. The two key measures were ‘health-related quality of life’ and ‘cost’. Quality of life years were calculated based on participant surveys using valid tools at study entry, 36-weeks of pregnancy – and then 6 weeks, 6 months, and 12 months post-partum. Cost was assessed including costs to Medicare, hospital funders and women through out-of-pocket expenses.

Public MGP was 22% cheaper than other models of care – it delivered a cost-saving of approximately $5,000 per woman to hospital funders. The researchers explained this cost-saving was largely because of shorter inpatient hospital stays. At the same time public MGP delivered similar outcomes (quality of life up to 12 months after birth) compared to standard care. Callander et al. (2021) results build on previous evidence of the cost-saving benefit of public MGP in Australian settings.

MGP delivers cost-savings for different groups

Women with low-risk status

Toohill et als., (2012) study of low-risk women who accessed either birth centre MGP, or standard care, calculated an approximate $1,000 cost-saving per woman with MGP. Women in MGP had a lower chance of induction of labour, fewer antenatal visits, and fewer neonatal admissions to nursery – which explained the cost-saving (Toohill et al., 2012).

Women with any-risk status

The M@NGO trial demonstrated that MGP  delivered an approximate cost-saving of $500 per woman compared to standard care (Tracy et al., 2013). This cost-saving was because women allocated to MGP had one fewer antenatal visit, were more likely go into labour spontaneously, use less pharmacological analgesia, have fewer postpartum haemorrhages, and have a shorter length of postnatal stay (Tracy et al., 2013).

Women with low-risk having their first baby

The cost of maternity care for first-time, low-risk women in 3 models – public MGP, public standard care, and private obstetric care –  was cheaper in public MGP  (approximate cost-saving $1500 per woman)(Tracy et al., 2014). This cost-saving was largely explained by lower rates of induction of labour and elective caesarean section, and lower rates of instrumental/surgical birth in public MGP (Tracy et al., 2014).

Aboriginal mothers

Gao et al. (2014) conducted a study of the cost consequences of MGP for Aboriginal mothers and infants compared to standard care. While Aboriginal mothers who accessed MGP had more antenatal care, including antenatal admissions, if their babies went to special care nursery they had a shorter length of stay, compared to babies born to Aboriginal mothers in standard care  (Gao et al., 2014). The study reported an approximate cost-saving $700 per woman associated with MGP.

Return on investment in safe quality care

The evidence is clear. Investing in expansion of public MGP is a more efficient use of health resources than the status quo. In the absence of financial incentives, however, the status quo in Australia – where <20% of women have access to MGP – is likely to persist. There is precedent to show that financial incentives and disincentives impact maternity care provision. For example, providing the same ‘delivery fees’ for vaginal birth and caesarean birth in both public and private, is an effective strategy to curb the overuse of caesarean section (V isser et al., 2018).

Alternative funding models, namely bundled funding, work in other countries that have high levels of access to MGP (e.g., New Zealand). In these models, services are provided a single payment for each birth, which covers all the care provided to the woman throughout pregnancy, intrapartum, and postnatally. Therefore, bundled funding directly rewards services who provide care most efficiently, rather than rewarding those who deliver the most episodes and highest-cost procedures.

There is need for whole-of-system redesign that recognises MGP not only improves health outcomes (Sandall et al., 2016) and women’s experiences (Forster et al., 2016) –  but also reduces the cost of providing maternity care.

Highlighted research

Callander, E. J., Slavin, V., Gamble, J., Creedy, D. K., & Brittain, H. (2021). Cost-effectiveness of public caseload midwifery compared to standard care in an Australian setting: a pragmatic analysis to inform service delivery. International Journal for Quality in Health Care, 33(2).


Council of Australian Governments. (2014). National Health Reform Agreement. COAG.

Forster, D. A., McLachlan, H. L., Davey, M. A., Biro, M. A., Farrell, T., Gold, L., Flood, M., Shafiei, T., & Waldenström, U. (2016). Continuity of care by a primary midwife (caseload midwifery) increases women’s satisfaction with antenatal, intrapartum and postpartum care: results from the COSMOS randomised controlled trial. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth16, 28.

Gao, Y., Gold, L., Josif, C., Bar-Zeev, S., Steenkamp, M., Barclay, L., Zhao, Y., Tracy, S., & Kildea, S. (2014). A cost-consequences analysis of a midwifery group practice for Aboriginal mothers and infants in the top end of the Northern Territory, Australia. Midwifery30(4), 447–455.

Sandall, J., Soltani, H., Gates, S., Shennan, A., & Devane, D. (2016). Midwife-led continuity models versus other models of care for childbearing women. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews4, CD004667.

Toohill, J., Turkstra, E., Gamble, J., & Scuffham, P. A. (2012). A non-randomised trial investigating the cost-effectiveness of Midwifery Group Practice compared with standard maternity care arrangements in one Australian hospital. Midwifery28(6), e874–e879.

Tracy, S.K., Welsh, A., Hall, B. et al. (2014). Caseload midwifery compared to standard or private obstetric care for first time mothers in a public teaching hospital in Australia: a cross sectional study of cost and birth outcomes. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth 1446.

Tracy, S. K., Hartz, D. L., Tracy, M. B., Allen, J., Forti, A., Hall, B., . . . Kildea, S. (2013). Caseload midwifery care versus standard maternity care for women of any risk: M@NGO, a randomised controlled trial. The Lancet, 382(9906), 1723-1732.

Visser GHA, Ayres-de-Campos D, Barnea ER, et al. (2018). FIGO position paper: how to stop the caesarean section epidemic. The Lancet, 392(10155), 1286-1287.

The midwife’s public health role

Midwifery is a public health strategy

Public health is “the art and science of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health” (WHO, 1988). The Quality Maternal and Newborn Care Framework highlights the preventative and supportive care midwives provide – tailored to individual needs and focussed on strengthening capabilities (QMNC, 2021).  Midwives use strategies that prevent or minimise complications during pregnancy, birth, or early parenting – and promote health and well-being (QNMC, 2021). For example, brief-interventions about smoking, screening and support for perinatal mental health, and promotion of normal birth and breastfeeding. The World Health Organization (2020) underscores the importance of working to strengthen families to provide a nurturing environment for children to thrive.

Midwifery continuity provides ideal context for change

Midwives in continuity of carer models are best placed to form genuine caring relationships with women (Jepsen et al., 2016). The midwife-woman relationship provides the context for women to buy-in to maternity care. Women buy-in when they feel safe enough to disclose risks and concerns, and trust and accept the midwife’s recommendations for making positive health changes (Allen et al., 2016).  There is high level evidence for midwifery continuity of care in terms of clinical outcomes (Sandall et al., 2016) and cost-efficiency (Callander et al., 2021). However, the evidence of effective midwifery public health interventions is still growing.

Evidence on midwifery public health interventions

Definitive evidence of effective midwifery public health interventions comes from a systematic review of systematic reviews (McNeill et al., 2012). This study considered the level of evidence included in reviews, and assessed how well each review was conducted. McNeill et al. (2012) identified 36 good quality systematic reviews which reported on effective interventions during the antenatal period (20 reviews), labour and birth (5 reviews) and postpartum (11 reviews). The review included 8 interventions categorised as:

  1. screening
  2. supplementation
  3. support
  4. education
  5. mental health
  6. birthing environment
  7. clinical care in labour
  8. breast feeding

Effective antenatal public health interventions included screening for lower genital tract infection, use of decision-aids, and specific nutrient supplementation – i.e., iron and folic acid (McNeill et al., 2012). However, the review noted a need for further research on calcium supplementation to reduce risk of pre-eclampsia (McNeill et al., 2012). Interventions designed to help women stop smoking during pregnancy were particularly effective (McNeill et al., 2012). While emotional support interventions, including telephone support, showed a trend towards positive psycho-social outcomes – further research is needed (McNeill et al., 2012).

Effective intrapartum public health interventions included having a known midwife, which reduced the risk of intrapartum analgesia and caesarean section, and increased the chance of spontaneous vaginal birth and breastfeeding (McNeill et al., 2012). Other effective interventions included access to birth centres, continuous emotional support in labour, warm water immersion, and delayed cord clamping (McNeill et al., 2012).

Effective postpartum public health interventions, included intensive midwifery home visiting which reduced the incidence of postnatal depression by 33% (Dennis & Creedy, 2004). Indeed, any intervention design to provide psycho-social support (e.g., non-directive counselling, group support) reduced postnatal depression when compared to standard care (McNeill et al., 2012). Interestingly, all types of interventions tested to increase breastfeeding had a positive impact. Antenatal education increased breastfeeding initiation for low-income women, whereas only postnatal interventions had an impact on duration and exclusivity (McNeill et al., 2012). Teaching and enhancing parenting skills improved children’s neurodevelopment up to 3 years of age compared to standard care (McNeill et al., 2012).

COVID-19 and the public health role of midwives

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the importance of investing in public health care to meet population health needs (Szabo et al., 2021). Dr Zoe Bradfield, Transforming Maternity Care Collaborative’s Health Promotion Program Co-Director, led a survey of midwives about providing maternity care during the pandemic (Bradfield et al., 2021). The results showed that having a known midwife was important particularly when woman had limited face-to-face midwifery contact during pregnancy and postpartum, and restrictions around social support in labour (Bradfield et al., 2021). Women’s experience of becoming mothers during the pandemic created additional needs for psycho-social support to manage isolation, anxiety, and stress; advocacy and access to reliable information; and reassurance (Sweet et al., 2021). Midwives are ideally placed to meet these needs through advocacy, education and support.

Midwifery investment improves public health

There is a lack of understanding about the impact and value of midwifery practice on public health outcomes. The 2021 State of the World’s Midwifery Report calls for significant investment in the education of midwives and expansion of midwifery-led models of care, to promote the health and well-being of mothers and babies (UNPF, WHO & ICM, 2021).  Midwives are essential providers of public health care contributing to improved outcomes, especially for women who may not experience equitable access to maternity care.

Highlighted research

McNeill J, Lynn F. & Alderdice F. (2012) Public health interventions in midwifery: A systematic review of systematic reviews. BMC Public Health, 12, 955. Retrieved from:


Allen, J., Kildea, S., & Stapleton, H. (2016). How optimal caseload midwifery can modify predictors for preterm birth in young women: integrated findings from a mixed methods study. Midwifery.

Bradfield, Z., Hauck, Y., Kuliukas, L., Sweet, L., Homer, C. Wilson, A., Vasilevski, V., Wynter, K. & Szabo, R.(2021). Midwifery care during the CoVID-19 pandemic in Australia: A cross-sectional study. Women and Birth (In Press).

Callander, E. J., Slavin, V., Gamble, J., Creedy, D. K., & Brittain, H. (2021). Cost-effectiveness of public caseload midwifery compared to standard care in an Australian setting: a pragmatic analysis to inform service delivery. International Journal for Quality in Health Care, 33(2).

Jepsen, I., Mark, E., Nohr, E. A., Foureur, M., & Sorensen, E. E. (2016). A qualitative study of how caseload midwifery is constituted and experienced by Danish midwives. Midwifery, 36, 61-69.

Quality Maternal and Newborn Care. (2021). Framework for Quality Maternal and Newborn Care. Retrieved from:

Sandall, J., Soltani, H., Gates, S., Shennan, A., & Devane, D. (2016). Midwife-led continuity models versus other models of care for childbearing women. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 4, Cd004667.

Sweet, L., Bradfield, Z., Vasilevski, V. Wynter, K.  Hauck, Y., Kuliukas, L., Homer, C., Szabo, R. & Wilson, A. (2021). Becoming a mother in the ‘new’ social world in Australia during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Midwifery. (In Press)

Szabo, R. Sweet, L., Homer, C., Wilson, A., Kuliukas, L., Hauck, Y., Vasilevski, V., Wynter, K. & Bradfield, Z. (2021). COVID-19 changes to maternity care: Experiences of Australian doctors. ANZJOG

United Nations Population Fund (UNPF), World Health Organization (WHO), & International Confederation of Midwives (ICM).(2021). State of the world’s midwifery: delivering health, saving lives. United Nations Population Fund.

World Health Organization. (2020). Improving Early Childhood Development: WHO Guideline. WHO.

World Health Organization. (1988). Public Health Services. Retrieved from:

Facilitating “instant and overwhelming love” should be standard midwifery care

Skin-to-skin contact between a mother and baby at birth

While facilitating immediate and uninterrupted skin-to-skin (S2S) for an hour after birth should be routine care, in most health services it is not. Having a baby in naked body contact with their mother immediately after birth has significant benefits for both. Immediate and sustained S2S (60 minutes or more) offers women physiological benefits including lower risk of postpartum haemorrhage (Saxton et al., 2015). Significantly, S2S increases the chance of having an effective first breastfeed, exclusively breastfeeding at hospital discharge, and sustained breastfeeding up to four months postpartum (Moore et al., 2016). Importantly, S2S offers psychological benefits too including lower symptoms of postpartum anxiety and depression (Kirca et al., 2021). Early S2S strengthens the mother-infant relationship, increases parental confidence, and initiates caregiving behaviours (Bystrova et al., 2009). Women’s experiences of S2S at birth have been summed up as feeling “instant and overwhelming love” (Anderzén-Carlsson et al., 2014). Despite endorsement by the World Health Organization, there has been a significant lag between evidence about S2S and translation into routine midwifery practice (Widström et al., 2019).

Australian women’s experiences of the first few hours after birth

Transforming Maternity Care Collaborative’s Dr Jyai Allen will present findings from an Australia women’s survey at the International Confederation of Midwives Virtual Congress in June 2021. Survey items drew on concepts from two midwifery theories: Birth Territory (Fahy & Parratt, 2006) and Pronurturance (Fahy et al., 2015). The survey link was shared widely on birth and parenting social media groups. The survey was open to women who had given birth in the previous 3-years in any Australian birth setting (hospital, birth centre, home). The main outcome for the study was ‘pronurturance’ defined as immediate S2S (within 1-minute of birth), uninterrupted holding for 60 minutes, and breastfeeding in the birth setting. Statistical testing identified that mode of birth and model of care were the factors that had a significant impact on pronurturance.

Most surveyed women did not experience ‘pronurturance’

Of the 1200 respondents, only 22% experienced all the elements of pronurturance (Allen et al., 2019a). Lack of pronurturance was because:

25% did not have an immediate cuddle

30% did not have any S2S

66% did not hold their baby for at least 60-minutes

19% did not breastfeed in the birth setting.

Women who were aware of the benefits of S2S, were more likely to receive it. Women who did not receive S2S were either wearing clothing that impeded it (60%) or received the baby  wrapped or dressed (40%) (Allen et al., 2019a). Most women (70%) said they would have removed their top / bra if the midwife had suggested it. When the first cuddle was ended before 60-minutes, 80% of women reported that was the choice of staff. The most common reasons were non-urgent: perform a procedure on the mother, weigh the baby, get the woman to shower (Allen et al., 2019a).

What hinders and what helps?

When surveyed women had a known midwife at birth, they were 89% more likely to get pronurturance. High workloads in fragmented models result in “time poverty” which limits the time midwives spend on the psycho-social-emotional elements of birth (Boyle et al. 2016). Whereas in the M@NGO trial, women allocated to midwifery continuity of carer were more likely to perceive their antenatal visits were unhurried and that they had time to ask questions (Allen et al., 2019b). During birth, midwifery continuity models provide explicit support for physiological birth (Kemp & Sandall, 2010), which includes undisturbed third and fourth stages of labour (Fahy et al., 2015). Whereas midwives working shifts are more likely to prioritise institutional needs and less likely to advocate for women they do not know (Finlay & Sandall, 2009).

Surveyed women who had a caesarean section were 93% less likely to receive pronurturance (Allen et al. 2019). We know that women who have a caesarean section commonly have a delay before their first cuddle, are less likely to have S2S, and less likely to breastfeed in the first hour after birth (Stevens et al., 2018). Importantly, however, women who have a caesarean section are more likely to benefit from S2S in terms of birth satisfaction (Kahalon et al., 2021). Changing practice around the time of caesarean section is hard. An implementation study showed that even after a 4-month period of staff education and agreed changes to practice, the increase in S2S contact for 15-minutes in the operating room only moved from 20 to 25 percent (Thompson et al., 2021).

Midwives can make a big difference – but they need support

Midwives and midwifery students are best placed to facilitate immediate and uninterrupted S2S after birth to initiate bonding and breastfeeding. That said, in operating theatre, having a multi-disciplinary team who understand the benefits of S2S and breastfeeding – and actively support it – is crucial to practice change (Thompson, 2021).

Midwives can make a difference by:

  1. Talking to women during pregnancy about the benefits of S2S and how to achieve it
  2. Helping women to remove bras or tops just prior to birth
  3. Assisting women to place the naked baby S2S against her bare chest and keeping baby warm with towels/blankets
  4.  Supporting delayed cord clamping and not separating babies from their mothers (Mejía Jiménez et al., 2021)

Furthermore, health services should prioritise embedding evidence-based practice into routine maternity care. This means identifying and strategically addressing the institutional processes that interrupt mothers and babies in the first hour after birth.


Highlighted research:  Allen, J., Parratt, J. A., Rolfe, M. I., Hastie, C. R., Saxton, A., & Fahy, K. M. (2019a). Immediate, uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding after birth: A cross-sectional electronic survey. Midwifery, 79, 102535-102535.

Anderzén-Carlsson, A., Carvalho Lamy, Z. & Eriksson, M. (2014) Parental experiences of providing skin-to-skin care to their newborn infant—Part 1: A qualitative systematic review. International Journal of Qualitative Studies on Health and Well-being, 9(1).

Allen, J, Kildea, S, Tracy, MB, Hartz, DL, Welsh, AW, Tracy, SK. (2019b). The impact of caseload midwifery, compared with standard care, on women’s perceptions of antenatal care quality: Survey results from the M@NGO randomized controlled trial for women of any risk. Birth, 46, 439– 449.

Bystrova, K., Ivanova, V., Edhborg, M., Matthiesen, A-S, Ransjo-Arvidson, A-B, Mukhamedrakhimov, R., Uvnas-Moberg, K., Widstrom, A-M. (2009). Early contact versus separation: effects on mother-infant interaction one year later. Birth, 36(2), 97–109.

Fahy, K., Saxton, A., Smith, L., & Campbell, F. (2015). Making pronurturance routine care to reduce PPH: Practice development research. Women and Birth, 28, S45.

Fahy, K. M., & Parratt, J. A. (2006). Birth Territory: A theory for midwifery practice. Women Birth, 19(2), 45-50.

Kahalon, R., Preis, H., & Benyamini, Y. (2021). Who benefits most from skin-to-skin mother-infant contact after birth? Survey findings on skin-to-skin and birth satisfaction by mode of birth. Midwifery92, 102862.

Kemp, J., & Sandall, J. (2010). Normal birth, magical birth: the role of the 36-week birth talk in caseload midwifery practice. Midwifery, 26(2), 211-221.

Kirca, N, Adibelli, D. Effects of mother–infant skin-to-skin contact on postpartum depression: A systematic review. (2021). Perspectives in Psychiatric Care. 1– 10.

Mejía Jiménez, I., Salvador López, R., García Rosas, E., Rodriguez de la Torre, I., Montes García, J., de la Cruz Conty, M. L., Martínez Pérez, O., & Spanish Obstetric Emergency Group† (2021). Umbilical cord clamping and skin-to-skin contact in deliveries from women positive for SARS-CoV-2: a prospective observational study. BJOG128(5), 908–915.

Saxton, A., Fahy, K., Rolfe, M., Skinner, V. & Hastie, C. (2015). Does skin-to-skin contact and breast feeding at birth affect the rate of primary postpartum haemorrhage: results of a cohort study. Midwifery, 31(11), 1110-1117.

Stevens, J., Schmied,V., Burns, E., & Dahlen, H.G. (2018). Who owns the baby? A video ethnography of skin-to-skin contact after a caesarean section. Women and Birth, 31(6), 453-462.

Thompson, N. M., & Maeder, A. B. (2021). Initiative to increase skin-to-skin contact in the operating room after cesarean. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing, 50(2), 193–204.

Widström, A. M., Brimdyr, K., Svensson, K., Cadwell, K., & Nissen, E. (2019). Skin-to-skin contact the first hour after birth, underlying implications and clinical practice. Acta Paediatrica108(7), 1192–1204.



“Caesareans are just another way of giving birth” – right?

Caesarean section (CS) is common in high income-countries. In Australia, 35% of women give birth by caesarean, while 85% of women with a previous CS will have a repeat CS (AIHW, 2020a). However, there is increasing media interest in the concept of ‘caesarean shaming’ or ‘caesarean stigma’. Although shame is an emotion of self-blame (Heshmat, 2015), a recent media article has suggested that talking about risks of CS and benefits of normal birth, causes women who have experienced or are planning CS, to feel shame (Begg, 2021) However, caesarean shaming is not born out in the literature – and focus on it obfuscates the issues.

Research on caesarean shaming or stigma

A quick literature search finds just two articles on CS shaming or stigma  – one is a research paper. A UK study presents results from 75 semi-structured interviews with women on a postnatal ward following a planned or unplanned CS (Tully & Ball, 2013). While some women felt stigma that they had “copped out of normal birth”; none of the women referred to feeling shamed by their decision or experience (Tully & Ball, 2013). The recent media article quotes 30 Australian women who uniformly believed their CS was lifesaving (Begg, 2021). Importantly, this echoes the UK interview results –every woman considered that her CS had been justified and necessary. Women commonly perceived it was their only option and lifesaving (Tully & Ball, 2013).

Caesareans can be life-saving but…this is epidemic

Caesarean section rates above 15% do not reduce maternal or neonatal mortality rates (Gibbons et al., 2010). Indeed, in high-income countries maternal death is exceedingly rare – 5.5 per 100,000  women who give birth in Australia will die (AIHW, 2020b). Maternity health professionals (WHO, 2018) and maternity consumer organisations (MCA, 2021) are increasingly concerned that CS is being performed without a medical or obstetric indication. Subsequently, we are experiencing a “caesarean epidemic” in high-income countries (Visser et al. 2018) – this is the story that needs to be picked up by the media.

Unnecessary caesarean creates harm without benefit

When a CS occurs without benefit, it creates unnecessary risks for mother and baby (Wise, 2018) . However, this jars with the commonly held view that CS is safer than vaginal birth because it is more “controlled” (Coates et al, 2021b).

Women who have a CS are at increased risk of birth trauma, uterine rupture, death, and future pregnancy complications including miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, preterm birth, and stillbirth (Sandall et al., 2018). Babies born via CS have higher rates of nursery admission and lower chance of sustained breastfeeding with negative health consequences (Hobbs et al., 2016). While evidence about long-term risks for CS born children continues to emerge, they appear to include allergies and asthma; diabetes, gastroenteritis, obesity, autism, and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (Sandall et al., 2018; Słabuszewska-Jóźwiak et al., 2020; Zhang et al., 2019).

Early term caesarean carries additional risks

The recent Australian Commission for Safety and Quality in Healthcare report showed that 50% of CS performed before 39 weeks gestation were done without a medical indication (ACSQH, 2021). Worryingly, early planned birth (<39 weeks) increases risks for babies of breathing difficulties, admission to neonatal nursery (ASQH, 2021), and in rare instances neonatal death (Prediger et al., 2020). In addition, the long-term risks of early planned birth are learning difficulties and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ACSQH, 2021).

How do women make informed decisions about caesarean

The Federation of International Gynecologists and Obstetricians have released a statement that women must be “properly informed” of the risks prior to consenting for CS (Visser et al., 2018). Coates et al. (2021a) survey of Australian women’s decision-making around planned CS reported that 90% perceived they had adequate information that they understood, including risks and benefits of CS. However, 15% felt pressured or uncertain about their decision, a figure reflected in the wider literature (Coates et al., 2021a). Further research on women’s decision-making about planned birth (either induction or CS) indicates that approximately:

  • 4 in 10 women were not provided with written information before deciding
  • 1 in 5 women felt they “didn’t really have a choice” about induction or CS (Coates et al., 2021b).

What can maternity services do

Facilitating informed decision-making is part of addressing alarming rates of CS. Likewise, it may be necessary to focus on changing the maternity care system. For example, there are several system-wide strategies that have been demonstrated to reduce CS rates:

  • Providing women with continuity of midwifery care (Callander et al., 2019)
  • Benchmarking, auditing and publishing CS rates in health services (Chen et al., 2018; Visser et al., 2018)
  • Funding models that mean fees for vaginal birth and CS are the same (Visser et al., 2018)
  • Implementation of guidelines, combined with mandatory second obstetric opinion about indication for CS, and physician education (Chen et al., 2018).

Additionally, it may be useful for clinicians to reflect on how they debrief with women following a CS, especially in relation to a possible future pregnancy. For example, considering how language may be interpreted (i.e., my baby almost died) and resisting the impulse to reassure women their CS was warranted if the clinical picture and evidence suggests it was not, is important (Niemczyk, 2014).


Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2020a). Australia’s mothers and babies 2018—in brief. Canberra: AIHW.

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2020b). Maternal deaths in Australia. Retrieved from

Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Healthcare. (2021).
The Fourth Australian Atlas on Healthcare Variation. Retrieved from:

Begg, C. (2021). “I was told I had taken the easy way out.” We need to talk about C-section shaming. Mamamia.

Callander, E., Creedy, D.K., Gamble, J., Fox, H., Toohill, J., Sneddon, A., & Ellwood D. (2019). Reducing caesarean section: An economic evaluation of routine induction of labour at 39 weeks gestation in low-risk nulliparous women. Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology, 34(1), 3-11.

Chen I, Opiyo N, Tavender E, et al. (2018). Non-clinical interventions for reducing unnecessary caesarean section. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 9(9): Cd005528.

Coates, D., Donnolley, N., Thirukumar, P., Lainchbury, A., Spear, V., & Henry, A. (2021a). Women’s experiences of decision-making and beliefs in relation to planned caesarean section: A survey study. The Australian & New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology61(1), 106–115.

Coates, D., Donnolley, N., Foureur, M., Thirukumar, P., & Henry, A. (2021b). Factors associated with women’s birth beliefs and experiences of decision-making in the context of planned birth: A survey study. Midwifery96, 102944.

Gibbons L, Belizán JM, Lauer JA, et al. (2010). The global numbers and costs of additionally needed and unnecessary caesarean sections performed per year: overuse as a barrier to universal coverage. World Health Rep, 30, 1–31.

Heshmat, S. (2015). Five factors that make you feel shame. Psychology Today.

Hobbs, A.J., Mannion, C.A., McDonald, S.W., Brockway, M., Tough, S.C. (2016). The impact of caesarean section on breastfeeding initiation, duration and difficulties in the first four months postpartum. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, 16, 90.

Independent Hospital Pricing Authority. (2020). National Hospital Cost Data Collection, Round 22 (2017-18). Sydney: IHPA.

Maternity Choices Australia. (2021). 2021 Federal Election MP/Senator brief endorsed by 15 community organisations. Retrieved from

Niemczyk, N. A. (2014). Most women think their cesarean birth was necessary. Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health, 59, 363-364.

Prediger, B., Mathes, T., Polus, S., Glatt, A., Bühn, S., Schiermeier, S., Neugebauer, E., & Pieper, D. (2020). A systematic review and time-response meta-analysis of the optimal timing of elective caesarean sections for best maternal and neonatal health outcomes. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth20(1), 395.

Sandall J, Tribe RM, Avery L, et al. (2018). Short-term and long-term effects of caesarean section on the health of women and children. The Lancet, 392(10155),1349-57.

Słabuszewska-Jóźwiak, A., Szymański, J. K., Ciebiera, M., Sarecka-Hujar, B., & Jakiel, G. (2020). Pediatrics consequences of caesarean section-A systematic review and meta-analysis. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health17(21), 8031.

Tully, K. P., & Ball, H. L. (2013). Misrecognition of need: women’s experiences of and explanations for undergoing cesarean delivery. Social Science & Medicine, 85(1982), 103–111.

Visser, G.H.A, Ayres-de-Campos, D., Barnea, E.R, et al. (2018). FIGO position paper: how to stop the caesarean section epidemic. The Lancet, 392(10155), 1286-1287.

Wise, J. (2018). Alarming global rise in caesarean births, figure show. British Medical Journal, 363, 4319.

World Health Organization. (2018). WHO recommendations non-clinical interventions to reduce unnecessary caesarean sections. Geneva: WHO.

Zhang T, Sidorchuk A, Sevilla-Cermeño L, et al. (2019). Association of cesarean delivery with risk of neurodevelopmental and psychiatric disorders in the offspring. JAMA Network Open, 2(8), e1910236.


The transformative power of birth

Induction of labour, epidural analgesia, and caesarean section are now common themes in many women’s birth stories. Women are often fearful of childbirth which may drive them to seek out medical intervention without a medical reason (Nilsson et al., 2018). Indeed, fragmented hospital maternity care supports the view that pregnancy and birth are inherently dangerous and require management and control. From this perspective, labour pain is viewed as needing ‘relief’ and the use of epidural analgesia is seen as normal practice (Newnham, McKellar, & Pincombe, 2016). The community generally lack knowledge about normal birth and in particular, the benefits of physiological birth (Wong, He, Shorey, & Koh, 2017). However, having a vaginal birth with minimal interference has considerable benefits for women and their babies in both the short and long term.

Birth is a process best supported by a known and trusted midwife

Birth is a normal and deeply significant psychological and social event in a woman’s life – and in most instances does not require medical rescue or relief. Further, there is considerable evidence that birth is best supported by a known midwife who provides reassurance, nurturing and comfort (Walsh, 2006), so that a woman can work with pain rather than resist it (Leap, Sandall, Buckland, & Huber, 2010), and feel safe enough to ‘let go’ (Anderson, 2000). When women are supported in this way, birth has the potential to be positively transformative, producing a sense of inner strength, triumph, and bliss. These transformative experiences have a lasting impact on the woman’s sense of self (Schwartz et al 2015), confidence as a new mother (Fenwick et al 2015), and relationship with her newborn (Toohill et al 2014).

New theory explains the positive potential of birth-giving

While the subject of birth trauma is gaining traction, women’s potential to positively transform through birth is not well understood. New research has addressed this gap and developed new language that can facilitate women’s conversations about their experiences. PhD candidate Ella Kurz applied feminist theory to childbirth to develop a theory that explains the transformative power of giving birth (Kurz, Davis & Browne, 2021).

The new theory, Parturescence, describes the process of women ‘becoming’ through childbirth (Kurz et al., 2021). Positive transformation results in better psycho-social well-being after birth. Whereas negative transformation includes birth trauma and psychological injury following birth. Parturescence theory refers to lines of descent (activities that bring predictability and control in birth) and lines of ascent (activities which open new ways of thinking and being). Importantly, the challenging and destabilising parts of labour and birth – and how these are mediated by maternity care – are key to women’s positive or negative transformation (Kurz et al., 2021). Midwife-woman interactions can facilitate negative or positive transformation through birth (Kurz et al., 2021). Midwives need to have the motivation and capacity to support women to feel safe, loved, relaxed and unafraid during birth – but not all midwives behave this way (Allen, Kildea, Hartz, Tracy, & Tracy, 2017). Recent research has demonstrated the importance of midwives’ social and emotional competence to establish and maintain positive relationships (Hastie & Barclay, 2021).

What does this mean for women and maternity services?

Birth has intrinsic value for women and their babies – and this should be reflected in how maternity care is organised and provided. Women and the wider community should know that women benefit from the continuous supportive presence of a known and trusted midwife who can hold the space while they transform triumphant into motherhood. Importantly, when women are treated with respect and compassion, regardless of mode of birth, there is potential for positive transformation.

Highlighted research

Kurz, E., Davis, D., & Browne, J. (2021). Parturescence: A theorisation of women’s transformation through childbirth. Women and Birth.


Allen, J., Kildea, S., Hartz, D. L., Tracy, M., & Tracy, S. (2017). The motivation and capacity to go ‘above and beyond’: Qualitative analysis of free-text survey responses in the M@NGO randomised controlled trial of caseload midwifery. Midwifery, 50, 148-156.

Anderson, T. (2000). Feeling safe enough to let go: the relationship between a woman and her midwife during the second stage of labour. In M. Kirkham (Ed.), The Midwife–Mother Relationship. Macmillan Press.

Fenwick J, Toohill J, Gamble J, Creedy DK, Buist A, Turkstra E, Sneddon A, Scuffham PA, & Ryding EL. (2015). Effects of a midwife psycho-education intervention to reduce childbirth fear on women’s birth outcomes and psychological well-being. BMC Pregnancy & Childbirth, 15, 284.

Hastie, C. R., & Barclay, L. (2021). Early career midwives’ perception of their teamwork skills following a specifically designed, whole-of-degree educational strategy utilising groupwork assessments. Midwifery.

Kurz, E., Davis, D., & Browne, J. (2021). Parturescence: A theorisation of women’s transformation through childbirth. Women and Birth.

Leap, N., Sandall, J., Buckland, S., & Huber, U. (2010). Journey to Confidence: Women’s Experiences of Pain in Labour and Relational Continuity of Care. Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health, 55(3), 234-242.

Newnham E., McKellar L., & Pincombe, J. (2016). A critical literature review of epidural analgesia. Evid Based Midwifery, 14(1), 22-28.

Nilsson, C., Hessman, E., Sjöblom, H., Dencker, A., Jangsten, E., Mollberg, M., . . . Begley, C. (2018). Definitions, measurements and prevalence of fear of childbirth: a systematic review. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth, 18(1), 28.

Schwartz L, Toohill J, Creedy DK, Baird K, Gamble G & Fenwick J. (2015) Factors associated with childbirth self-efficacy in childbearing women. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, 15:29.

Wong, C. Y. W., He, H. G., Shorey, S., & Koh, S. S. L. (2017). An integrative literature review on midwives’ perceptions on the facilitators and barriers of physiological birth. International Journal of Nursing Practice, 23(6).