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Valuing women’s experiences in the student midwifery journey

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Hearing and reflecting on lived experiences is central to ensuring midwifery care effectively supports families in the transition to parenthood.

However, midwifery education is intense, time pressured, content and NMC competency specific so for students engaging with women’s lived experience is often limited to routine postnatal visits. Student NT editor for midwifery, Holly Morse, explains more… 

holly morse

To affect positive change in midwifery services, to inform best practice and respond to feedback student midwives need opportunities to listen to women’s experiences of their births and early parenting.

Prior to studying midwifery I facilitated a new parents’ group providing the opportunity for parents to gather socially, form friendships and offer one another peer support.

I experienced the value of hearing these stories told organically and the positive effect on postnatal mental health of shared reflections and debriefing, informing my understanding of what support new mothers report needing in the postnatal period, particularly how valuable opportunities to discuss, share and reflect on birth experiences, with peers and trained supporters are.

“It’s been great to ask questions without worrying that I’m wasting someone’s time or asking anything silly.” - Isla, 31

Most women are now experiencing birth in clinical environments, experiencing interventions, instrumental and surgical births more than ever before.

Many report trauma and loss of expectation and managing these in the transition to parenthood, a time of great physical, hormonal and practical change can have huge emotional impact, with implication for mental health particularly postnatal depression.

Sharing these experiences with peers at a similar point promotes positive interaction, development of coping strategies and informal debriefing as well as normalising the challenges of early parenting.

Settings where appropriately experienced supporters can also offer evidenced based information to help women make sense of their experiences as well as signposting to debriefing services are also highly regarded.

“The group gives me a reason to get up and out of the house, for me and my baby” - Lily, 24

Peers can offer information on other local social and learning opportunities for mother and baby, based on current information and recommendation not easily maintained by health professionals (e.g baby massage, yoga, creative groups and other mother and baby groups) as well as longer term discussion about schools and older children

The opening of the Swansea University Health and Wellbeing Academy in 2017 provided the opportunity to develop a perinatal support group, based on the PBB framework (DoH, 2009) with a student-led format, creating opportunities for students to access the group as placement hours, engaging with women outside a clinical setting to offer support whilst learning from lived birth and parenting experiences to inform practice.

The group, ‘Grow Baby’ runs organically on peer-to-peer conversation and social support.

Student midwives have offered evidence based information, where the opportunity has arisen, on issues like infant feeding, sleep and normal newborn behaviour, importance of early attachment and bonding, preparing for weaning, accessing debriefing and counselling services for birth trauma and sharing details of local parent and baby orientated activities.

“Being a mum as well as a student midwife I really remember how hard the first weeks can be and it’s so valuable to be able to apply my experience and knowledge to support and really spend time listening” - Bernadette, 29

Feedback in the first year has been very positive, women are returning each week, bringing others along and the group is growing.

Women say the student support available is reassuring, the location accessible and they enjoy the social experience for themselves and their baby.

Student midwives who have attended have also found the opportunity to engage with women, share thoughts and hear the experiences invaluable for reflection and informing practice.

The group is already demonstrating how opportunities, outside of routine care, for students to hear women’s lived experiences of birth and early parenting can be incorporated into midwifery education, supporting and empowering women to share narrative and voices to enhance student learning and future practice.

*Department of Health, 2009, Preparation for Birth and Beyond 

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