Protecting human rights in childbirth

Dignity in childbirth

“A woman’s relationship with her maternity providers is vitally important. Not only are these encounters the vehicle for essential lifesaving health services, but women’s experiences with caregivers can empower and comfort or inflict lasting damage and emotional trauma.”

White Ribbon Alliance, Respectful Maternity Care, 2011

Our flagship Dignity in Childbirth Campaign launched in October 2013 to protect and promote women’s dignity in childbirth.

Our Dignity Survey found the majority of women said they were happy with their maternity care, but less than half of women we surveyed had the birth they wanted and many experienced lack of choice and disrespectful care.

While our maternity system generally ensures safe outcomes for mothers and babies, stories of disrespect in childbirth – ranging from procedures performed without consent to verbal abuse and bullying – are worryingly common. Women’s autonomy in childbirth – choices about where, how and with whom they give birth – are often limited with lasting impact for mother and baby. Read our 2019 joint submission to the UN on women’s experiences of childbirth in the UK.

We are proud to endorse the White Ribbon Alliance’s Respectful Maternity Care Charter, which aims to educate, inform and advocate for all women and newborns to receive respectful and dignified care worldwide.

Dignity Survey

In September 2013, we asked over 1,100 women who had given birth over the past two years about their experiences of childbirth. Read the results in full.

The majority felt that their childbirth experiences affected their self-image and relationships with their baby and their partner. A significant proportion of these women believed that the effect was negative.

Our findings from women who gave birth in hospital or birth centres included:

  • Only 68% of women were given a choice of where to give birth
  • 31% said that they did not feel in control of their birth experience
  • 15% were unhappy with the availability of pain relief and 10% were unhappy with the choice of pain relief
  • 23% were unhappy about being not given a choice of position during labour
  • 20% said healthcare professionals did not always introduce themselves
  • 18% did not feel that health professionals listened to them
  • 12% did not consider that they had consented to medical procedures
  • 24% of women who had an instrumental birth said they had not consented to procedures

We interviewed midwives about their understanding and experience of dignity in childbirth. They described the challenges they faced to safeguarding women’s dignity as a result of staffing shortages and inadequate training. Read about their responses in the second part of the Birthrights Dignity Survey.

Dignity Forum

On October 16 2013, Birthrights hosted the first-ever Dignity in Childbirth Forum at the Royal College of Physicians in London. Check out the press coverage:

You can watch Davina McCall talking about what dignity in childbirth means to her, view Simon Goldsworthy’s beautiful photos and download the Forum programme.

Dignity Projects

In summer 2013, Birthrights put out a call for submissions describing maternity initiatives that promote dignity in childbirth.

The papers we received are all reproduced in our publication: Birthrights Projects and Perspectives. They are just a small sample of the exceptional work that is taking place across the UK, but they reflect the passion and dedication that exists for improving childbirth among health professionals, academics and campaigners.

As part of our work to influence and improve practice, we will continue to promote projects that have the potential to change maternity care for the better.

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