Consent during labour and birth as observed by midwifery students: A mixed methods study

Consent during labour and birth as observed by midwifery students: A mixed methods study
Nigel Lee, Lauren Kearney, Emma Shipton, Glenda Hawley, Peta Winters-Chang, Catherine Kilgour, Susannah Brady, Ann Peacock, Loretta Anderson, Tracy Humphrey
Women and Birth, 18 February 2023
Open Access
While consent is an integral part of respectful maternity care, how this is obtained during labour and birth presents conflicting understandings between midwives’ and women’s experiences. Midwifery students are well placed to observe interactions between women and midwives during the consent process.
The purpose of this study was to explore the observations and experiences of final year midwifery students of how midwives obtain consent during labour and birth.
An online survey was distributed via universities and social media to final year midwifery students across Australia. Likert scale questions based on the principles of informed consent (indications, outcomes, risks, alternatives, and voluntariness) were posed for intrapartum care in general and for specific clinical procedures. Students could also record verbal descriptions of their observations via the survey app. Recorded responses were analysed thematically.
225 students responded with 195 completed surveys; 20 students provided audio recorded data. Student’s observations suggested that the consent process varied considerably depending on the clinical procedure. Discussions of risks and alternatives during labour were frequently omitted.
The student’s accounts suggest that in many instances during labour and birth the principles of informed consent are not being applied consistently. Presenting interventions as routine care subverted choice for women in favour of the midwives’ preferences.
Consent during labour and birth is invalidated by a lack of disclosure of risks and alternatives. Health and education institutions should include information in guidelines, theoretical and practice training on minimum consent standards for specific procedures inclusive of risks and alternatives.

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