Doctoral Thesis Collection

This midwifery PhD thesis collection is an exciting new initiative for the RCM.

The aim of the collection is to provide a platform for midwives to showcase their academic work, and to inspire and support midwives who are considering or who are currently undertaking further academic study. Additionally, the collection will provide a source of open access midwifery generated evidence for everyone to use.

The opportunity for midwives to include details of the resultant publications and their social media details and institutional link, if appropriate will hopefully also support the creation of professional networks related to their academic interests. Authors may have also published articles from their thesis, so please use an author’s contact details to ask about this.

If you are a midwife and have a completed a PhD and would like to include your thesis in this collection, please complete the online form below.

If you would like to search the Thesis Collection, "Control+F" (or "Command+F" on a Mac) is the keyboard shortcut for the Find command. Pressing the Ctrl/Command key + the F key will bring up a search box in the top right corner of your screen. You can then use this to search the Collection for keywords.

Submit details of your doctoral thesis to be included in the RCM collection

Fill out the form



Thesis and key words


Dr Laura Abbott

[email protected]


The Incarcerated Pregnancy: An Ethnographic Study of Perinatal Women in English Prisons

Prison Pregnancy, Incarceration Birth

Full thesis


The UK has the highest incarceration rate in Western Europe, with pregnant women making up around 6% of the female prison population. There are limited qualitative studies published that document the experiences of pregnancy whilst serving a prison sentence. This doctoral thesis presents a qualitative, ethnographic interpretation of the pregnancy experience in three English
prisons. The study took place during 2015-2016 and involved semi-structured interviews with 28
female prisoners in England who were pregnant, or had recently given birth whilst imprisoned,
ten members of staff, and ten months of non-participant observation. Follow-up interviews with five women were undertaken as their pregnancies progressed to birth and the post-natal phase.
Using a sociological framework of Sykes’ (1958) ‘pains of imprisonment’, this study builds upon existing knowledge and highlights the institutional responses to the pregnant prisoner. My original contribution to knowledge focuses on the fact that pregnancy is an anomaly within the patriarchal prison system. The main findings of the study can be divided into four broad concepts, namely: (a) ‘institutional thoughtlessness’, whereby prison life continues with little thought for those with unique physical needs, such as pregnant women; and (b) ‘institutional
ignominy’ where the women experience ‘shaming’ as a result of institutional practices which
entail their being displayed in public and characterised with institutional symbols of
imprisonment. The study also reveals new information about the (c) coping strategies adopted
by pregnant prisoners; and (d) elucidates how the women navigate the system to negotiate
entitlements and seek information about their rights. Additionally, a new typology of prison officer has emerged from this study: the ‘maternal’ is a member of prison staff who accompanies pregnant, labouring women to hospital where the role of ‘bed watch officer’ can become that of
a birth supporter. This research has tried to give voice to pregnant imprisoned women and to highlight gaps in existing policy guidelines and occasional blatant disregard for them. In this sense, the study has the potential to springboard future inquiry and to be a vehicle for positive
reform for pregnant women across the prison estate.

Dr Jenny Carter

[email protected]

Threatened preterm labour: a prospective cohort study for the development of a clinical risk assessment tool and a qualitative exploration of women's experiences of risk assessment and management.

Preterm birth, risk, prediction

Full thesis



Background: Preterm birth (PTB) is a major cause of infant morbidity and mortality, and accurate assessment of women in threatened preterm labour (TPTL) is vital for identifying need for appropriate intervention. Risk assessment in TPTL is challenging, however, due to its complex and multifactoral nature. In many women, TPTL symptoms do not progress to spontaneous PTB (sPTB) so assessment that reassures quickly, often through use of tests, e.g. fetal fibronectin (fFN) and cervical length(CL), may reduce unnecessary intervention and decrease anxiety. Aims: This PhD project had two main objectives: first to improve TPTL risk assessment by further developing the clinical decision support tool, the “QUIPP” mobile phone application, which simplifies risk assessment by calculating individual % risk of sPTB based on risk status, fFN and CL results. The second objective was to understand TPTL from the women’s perspective in order to inform future improvements in care.

Method: The study comprised three components: 1) a prospective cohort study, collecting data on risk factors, test results and interventions. Predictive utility of fFN and CL were investigated, as well as generation and validation of risk prediction algorithms for the second version of QUIPP; 2) a qualitative study of women’s experience of TPTL through one-to-one semi-structured interviews; 3) a qualitative study of clinicians using the first version of QUIPP.

Results: Cohort study: 1186women were recruited at 11 UK hospitals between March 2015 and October 2017, with data available for analysis on 1037. Prevalence of sPTB was 3.9% (40/1037)and 12.1% (125/1037) at <34 and <37 weeks’ gestation, respectively. Validation of QUIPP algorithms, using risk factors and fFN results alone, demonstrated good prediction of sPTB <30 weeks’ gestation (AUC 0.96, 95% CI 0.94-0.99) and at <1 week of testing (AUC 0.91, 95% CI 0.87-0.96). Qualitative study: Four themes emerged following interviews with 19 women: i) coping with uncertainty; ii) dealing with conflicts; iii) aspects of care and iv) interactions with professionals. QUIPP users’ study: 10 clinicians expressed predominantly positive views and suggested improvements.

Conclusion: All components of this project informed development of QUIPP v.2 (algorithms and design), which appears superior in predicting sPTB compared to previously reported predictive utility of fFN, CL and QUIPP v.1 algorithms. The qualitative study was the first exploring women’s experience of TPTL in a UK hospital with a specialist preterm service, and findings further support the need for women of all risk groups to have timely access to advice and information, and continuity of care.

Dr Sam Chenery-Morris

[email protected]


Grading student midwives’ practice: a case study exploring relationships, identity, and authority.

Grading practice, students, Assessment, Midwifery knowledge

Grading students’ practice in the UK is a mandatory requirement of midwifery programmes regulated by the Nursing and Midwifery Council. This thesis explores how grading affects midwifery students, mentors and lecturers’ relationships, identity and authority. Individual and group interviews with fifty-one students, fifteen mentors and five lecturers, recruited from three local NHS Hospital Trusts and a university provided a diversity of views and experiences. This was complemented with documentary data from student practice grades, practice assessment documents and action plans from underperforming students. The analytical framework for this case study draws on Basil Bernstein's pedagogic codes using the concepts of classification and framing. This enabled an exploration of what counted as valid practice knowledge, teaching and learning in clinical practice and the evaluation of learning.Differences between students, with respect to their orientation to midwifery knowledge, types of practice knowledge and relationships between the hospital and community mentors were identified. Despite these, students were consistently awarded high practice grades. The environment seemed to affect the structural and interactional practices between students and mentors and, according to Bernstein’s theory, should have affected the practice grade. However, there was limited stratification of grades. Therefore, the grades have been interpreted as competence rather than performance of midwifery and symbolise acceptance into the profession. Reasons for this were offered. This study provides a unique insight into grading students’ practice, resulting in recommendations such as the separation of the role of mentor from assessor as well asa call for greater assessment of communication skills and evidence to inform midwifery practice. New models of teaching and assessment in clinical practice may enable a change of pedagogic code. Understanding the complexity of the practice area and the types of discourses it produces is necessary to enable all students equal access to midwifery specific knowledge.

Dr Lisa Common

[email protected]


Home birth and the English NHS: Exploring the dynamics of institutional change in the context of health care.

Home birth; deinstitutionalisation; midwifery

Full thesis


This study aimed to understand and explain the work involved in creating, maintaining and disrupting divergent models of health service organisation and delivery, with a specific focus on maternity care provided to healthy women who chose to give birth at home. It investigated questions about the priorities that frame the allocation and management of health service resources and sought to understand how opportunities to advance new institutional practices were recognised, created or resisted by different stakeholders. This study drew upon concepts of deinstitutionalisation to examine why the disappearance of older institutional practices [in this instance, home birth] were not always inevitable when a newer practice [such as an obstetric unit birth] became prevalent or dominant. Work examining mature institutional fields exposed to modernising influences has suggested that non-dominant professional groups appear to engage in countervailing activities that maintain the persistence of older institutional practices while making efforts towards reinstitutionalisation. To date, studies have tended to focus attention at the top of organisations or on embedded or dominant occupational groups. This study has expanded and developed understandings of the agentic activity undertaken by a non-dominant professional group that sit largely outside strategic management and funding structures who sought to re-legitimise institutional practices which had been eroded or threatened with extinction. Methodology and methods: This was a multiple case site study that employed a variety of qualitative research methods. This was compatible with institutional theory which has sought to examine how enduring social patterns and arrangements are constructed, become taken for granted and treated as inevitable. This study engaged with three separate organisations providing maternity services and a range of organisations and individuals associated with, or affected by this activity. The case sites were selected to represent a range of settings, conditions and relationships that are recognisable across the English National Health Service (NHS). Intended contribution: The theoretical contribution of this study is to organisational and medical sociology questions about occupational relationships and the priorities that frame the allocation and management of health service resources. This was achieved by identifying institutional work both seeking to reinforce or resist existing medicalised and acute-focused maternity services. Practically, this study engaged with the socio-cultural and political complexities of maternity services’ organisation and delivery. It provides information for policy-makers, service leaders and innovators who are contemplating implementing changes in contexts where home birth services are under-developed or under-performing.

Dr Mel Cooper

[email protected]


Meeting the health and social needs of pregnant asylum seekers; midwifery students' perspectives.

Critical discourse analysis, midwifery students, problem-based learning as a research method,
pregnant asylum seekers.

Full thesis

Current literature has indicated a concern about standards of maternity care experienced by
pregnant asylum seeking women. As the next generation of midwives, it would appear essential that students are educated in a way that prepares them to effectively care for pregnant asylum seekers. Consequently, this study examined the way in which midwifery students constructed a pregnant asylum seeker’s health and social needs, the discourses that influenced their
constructions and the implications of these findings for midwifery education. For the duration of year two of a pre-registration midwifery programme, eleven midwifery students participated in
the study. Two focus group interviews using a problem based learning (PBL) scenario were conducted. In addition, three students were individually interviewed and two students’ written reflections on practice were used to construct data. 2 Following a critical discourse analysis, dominant discourses were identified which appeared to influence the way that pregnant asylum seekers were perceived. The findings suggested an underpinning discourse around the asylum
seeker as different and of a criminal persuasion. In addition, managerial and medico-scientific discourses were identified, which appeared to influence how midwifery students approach their
care of women in general, at the expense of a woman centred, midwifery perspective. The findings from this study were used to develop “the pregnant woman within the global context” model for midwifery education and it is recommended that this be used in midwifery education, to facilitate the holistic assessment of pregnant asylum seekers’ and other newly arrived migrants’ health and social needs.

Dr Kirstie Coxon

[email protected]

Birth Place Decisions: A prospective qualitative study of how women and their partners make sense of risk and safety when choosing where to give birth

Place of birth, risk, narrative, longitudinal

Full thesis

For the past two decades, English health policy has proposed that women should have a choice of place of birth, but despite this, almost all births still take place in hospital. The policy context is one of contested evidence about birth outcomes in relation to place of birth, and of international debate about the safety of birth in non-hospital settings; partly as a consequence of this, ‘birth place decisions’ have become morally and politically charged. Given the perceived lack of consensus about birth place safety, this study sought to explore the experience of making birth place decisions from the perspectives of women and their partners, in the context of contemporary NHS maternity care.

Longitudinal narrative interviews were conducted with 41 women and 15 birth partners recruited from three English NHS trusts, each of which provided different birth place options. Initial interviews were conducted during pregnancy, and follow up interviews took place at the end of pregnancy and again up to three months after the birth. Altogether, 141 interviews were conducted and analysed using a thematic narrative approach.

This research contributes new knowledge about how birth place decisions are undertaken and negotiated, and about the extent to which some are excluded from these choices. Participants’ beliefs about birth place risk originated in upbringing and drew upon normative discourses which positioned hospital as an appropriate setting for birth. Individual worldviews informed conceptualisations of birth place risk, and these were premised upon prioritisation of medical risks of birth, perceived quality of the maternity service or the likelihood that medical intervention would interfere with birth. These beliefs were often enduring and the overall tendency was for women to be increasingly conservative about their birth place options over time, but during their first pregnancies, participants views were most fluid and open to change.

Dr Rowena Doughty

[email protected]


An Interpretive Exploration of the Experiences of Mothers with Obesity and Midwives Who Care for the Mother During Childbirth

Obesity; Childbearing.

Full thesis

Obesity, as defined as a BMI ≥ 30 (kg/m2) had been established as a risk factor for increased morbidity and mortality during childbearing. There was a need for empirical research to explore the experiences of obese women and midwives during childbearing to stimulate debate and inform the delivery of care to this client group. This thesis provides a justification for a qualitative interpretivist study using semi-structured interviews with obese women and midwives. This study found that once an obese mother has been placed on the high-risk medicalised pathway, her choices are reduced and the ability to bring a sense of agency and choice to promote and support her own health is limited. The relationship with the midwife, which could have been focused on promoting the health and wellbeing of mother and baby, instead becomes a relationship of managing risk in a reductionist way. This makes it harder for both mothers and midwives to raise the issue of obesity, resulting in a tendency not to deal with the issue. Subsequently, the opportunities for health promotion offered by the midwife-mother relationship sustained over 7
to 8 months are lost, so that encouraging self-understanding and self-help in managing and reducing obesity cannot be achieved. The findings of this study suggest the need to enhance the health promotion role of the midwife. This thesis suggests reviewing the use of BMI, developing discussions about gestational weight gain and healthy lifestyle choices with women during antenatal care, and listening to mother’s lay theories, perceptions and concerns around weight. Midwifery care, which uses positive discourses and forward-facing care approaches and supported by continuity of carer schemes and access to midwifery-led care, could enhance the midwife’s health promotion role. This could lessen the risk of post-partum weight retention post-birth and enhance a new mother’s physical and emotional wellbeing.

Dr Rebecca Edwards

[email protected]


Can an educational web intervention, co-created by service users, affect nulliparous women's experiences of early labour? (A randomised control trial)

Latent, Early, Digital, Experience

Full thesis

Women without complications have less obstetric intervention if they remain at home in early labour, yet report dissatisfaction in doing this, describing a disparity between expectations and the reality of this phase. A dichotomy exists between what is clinically beneficial (remaining at home) and what women require emotionally(support and reassurance). Previous research has been driven by maternity services’ needs, focusing on the transition between labour phases, commonly testing interventions that aim to improve clinical outcomes. Using self-efficacy theory, a web-based intervention was co-created providing early labour advice, alongside videoed, real-experiences of women who have previously had babies. The primary aim of this study was to evaluate the intervention’s impact on women’s self-reported early labour experiences. The intervention was trialled in a pragmatic RCT at an NHS Trust between 2018 and 2020. A total of 140 low-risk, nulliparous, pregnant women were randomised to the intervention group (n=69) or the control group (n=71). Data was collected at 7-28 days postnatally using the pre-validated Early Labour Experience Questionnaire (ELEQ). Secondary, clinical outcomes were also collected, as well as information about the acceptability and usability of the intervention. There were no statistically significant differences in the ELEQ scores between trial arms. The intervention group scored more positively in two of the three ELEQ subscale domains (emotional wellbeing and emotional distress) and less positively in the perceptions of midwifery subscale. Participants in the intervention group were less likely to require labour augmentation. The L-TEL Trial demonstrates that women evaluate aspects of their early labour experience continuum independently: an improved emotional experience does not necessarily equate to an overall improved experience of this phase. Equipping women to have better emotional experiences at home may negatively impact on their perceptions of midwifery care when sought. Further research is recommended on a larger scale to explore this.

Dr Allison Farnworth

[email protected]


A qualitative exploration of the role frontline health workers play in defining the quality of services provided to women experiencing an early miscarriage

Quality of Care, Early Miscarriage, Micro Organisational Theory, Frontline Staff

Full thesis


It is proposed that frontline health care workers in the English National Health Service (NHS) should have an important role in managing the quality of the services they deliver. Formal NHS quality management processes are structured in a highly rationalised way and the extent to which frontline workers have agency to apply their own knowledge to address suboptimal care practices is not well understood. This study explores how frontline NHS workers manage the quality of services offered to women experiencing an early miscarriage using qualitative semi-structured interview data collected from 34 frontline health care workers and managers from three hospitals in the North East of England. Secondary thematic data analysis, informed by micro-organisational theories, was used to explore the role of frontline health care workers in managing the quality of their services. This secondary analysis identified three key themes in the data; (1) the link between the quality gap and the difficulties associated with delivering humane and individualised care, (2) the role of collective understandings in defining the parameters of acceptable versus ideal quality of care, and (3) the use of discretionary practices to manipulate quality of care. These findings suggest that management of health care quality is complex and characterised by bureaucratic constraints that support
narratives of powerlessness and compromise amongst NHS workers. Structures that privilege rational models of organisational management pose a significant challenge to the delivery of relational
aspects of care. This study contributes to the evidence base by providing insight into the unseen discretionary practices frontline workers engage in to improve quality of care whilst also maintaining organisational functionality. These practices, based on collective beliefs about the parameters of “acceptable” quality of care, are paradoxical; they can improve quality for individual
patients but they also support the structures that create quality shortfalls in the first place. The findings of this study offer a model of optimal care for early pregnancy loss that could be used as a
framework on which to base quality improvement activities in this area. They also offer a unique insight into the issues that may result in suboptimal care practices perpetuating in the NHS, especially in relation to the delivery of humane and relational aspects of health care; this finding has implications for frontline clinicians, managers, educationalists and policymakers alike.

Dr Claire Feeley

[email protected]


‘Practising outside of the box, whilst within the system’: A feminist narrative inquiry of NHS midwives supporting and facilitating women’s alternative physiological birthing choices.

Birth, guidelines, autonomy, midwives

Full thesis

This thesis presents the findings of an original study that explored NHS midwives practice of facilitating women’s alternative physiological birthing choices - defined in this study as ‘birth choices that go outside of local/national maternity guidelines or when women decline recommended treatment of care, in the pursuit of a physiological birth’. The premise for this research relates to dominant sociocultural-political discourses of medicalisation, technocratic, risk-averse and institutionalisation that has shaped childbirth practices in the UK. For midwives working in the NHS, sociocultural-political and institutional constraints can negatively impact their ability to provide care to women making alternative birth choices. A meta-ethnography was carried out, highlighting a paucity of literature in this area. Therefore, the aim of this study was to generate practice-based knowledge to answer the broad research question: ‘what are the processes, experiences, and sociocultural-political influences upon NHS midwives’ who self-define as facilitative of women’s alternative birthing choices’.Underpinned by a feminist pragmatist theoretical framework, a narrative methodology was used to conduct this study. Professional stories of practice were collected via self-written narratives and interviews to understand the processes of facilitation (the what, how, why), their experiences of carrying out facilitative actions (subjective sense-making), and what sociocultural-political factors influenced their practice. Through purposive and snowball sampling, a diverse sample of 45 NHS midwives from across the UK was recruited. A sequential, pluralistic narrative approach to data analysis was carried out, and a theoretical model was developed using the whole dataset. The findings were subjected to three levels of analysis.First, ‘Narratives of Doing’ highlight how and what midwives did to facilitate women’s alternative choices. The sub-themes reflect the temporal nature of a wide range of actions/activities involved when caring for women making alternative birthing decisions. The second analysis; ‘Narratives of Experience’ - highlighted the midwives polarised experiences captured as ‘stories of distress’, ‘stories of transition,’ and ‘stories of fulfilment’. For the third level of analysis, a theoretical model of ‘stigmatised to normalised practice’ was developed using notions of stigma/normal, deviance/positive deviance. A six-domain model was developed that accounted for the midwives sociocultural-political working contexts; micro, me so, and macro. The implications of this research related to a number of identified constraints, protective factors, and enabling factors for midwifery practice. Key barriers included negative organisational cultures that restricted both midwives’ and women’s autonomy. Disparities between the midwives’ philosophy and their workplace culture were highlighted as a key stressor and barrier to delivering woman-centred care. Protective factors related to the benefits of working in supportive, like-minded teams that mitigated against their wider stressful working environments. Facilitating factors included positive organisational cultures characterised by strong leadership where midwives were trusted and women’s autonomy was supported.Therefore, this study has captured what has been achieved, and what can be achieved within NHS institutional settings. Through the identification of both challenges and facilitators, the findings can be used to provide maternity professionals and services with insights of how they too can facilitate women’s alternative birthing choices.

Dr Jude Field 

[email protected]

Exploring decision making to create an active offer of planned home birth

Active offer, Planned home birth, Decision making, Social networks

Full thesis

Historically, the focus of the UK and international research exploring planned home birth decision making has been largely focused on understanding the experiences of women who decide to birth at home. As a result of high-profile research that suggests that non-OU birth locations are safe for low risk women, there has been a recent shift in focus resulting in research studies that aim to increase the rates of planned home birth, or more often the rates of all non-obstetric unit birth within the UK. However, despite this increased level of attention, the rate of home birth remains stubbornly low. Whilst there is some research to indicate why this might be the case, research that sheds a new light on the issue, and that develops an evidence base for new interventions is required. This thesis illuminates the factors that need to be considered in order to increase women’s abilities to make an informed decision about planned birth. A pragmatic approach, using mixed methods, was used to explore the current way that we offer planned home birth to maternity service users, and to ultimately make suggestions about how this could be improved. The application of active offer theory to the offer of planned home birth has been undertaken for the first time, and this has generated a new and useful perspective on this area of midwifery practice.

The resultant two-stage AOPHB process has the potential for developing midwifery practice in terms of supporting midwives to understand and facilitate women’s decision making around home birth, providing a flexible tool that can be used in clinical practice. This is the first approach that has been developed with the aim of increasing the ability of women to make an informed decision about whether they wish to birth at home.

Dr Liz Gale

[email protected]


Returning to the Path. A hermeneutic phenomenological study of parental expectations and the meaning of transition to early parenting in couples with a pregnancy conceived using in-vitro fertilisation

In Vitro Fertilisation, Hermeneutic Phenomenology, Pregnancy, Parenthood

Full thesis

Aim: To gain insight into the lived experience of the transition to parenthood for couples with a singleton IVF pregnancy.

Design: Heideggerian hermeneuticphenomenological study.

Methods: Data was collected in 2015, three couples were interviewed on three occasions each, using unstructured interviews; at 34weeks of pregnancy, six weeks and three months postpartum. Interviews lasted 32 -80 minutes (mean: 53) audio data later transcribed. Crafted stories (Crowther et al 2016) were used for analysis and an adaptation of Diekelman et al (1989) on both cross-sectional and longitudinal data.

Findings: The experience of pregnancy and parenting is influenced by the journey to conception and through pregnancy. ‘Returning to the Path’ was identified as the point couples had anticipated being at several years earlier. It drew on three over-arching themes: Seeking the Way, Returning to the Path and Journeying On.

Conclusion: Infertility is a deviation from the life path that a couple anticipated, returning to that path occurs at different times for different couples and is influenced by differing factors. The pregnancy may be experienced as a ‘tentative’ progression, however following birth, parenthood was embraced with an instinctive, baby-led style. Transition to parenthood was aided by social support and reliance on the couple relationship.

Impact: Findings have implications for those who support couples with IVF pregnancies in recognising their, often unspoken, concerns throughout pregnancy, shown as a reluctance to look too far ahead. They also need to appreciate the differing points at which these anxieties can recede.

Dr Suzanne Hardacre

[email protected]

Twitter: @suzannehardacr1


The experience of pregnant women being offered influenza vaccination by their midwife, a
qualitative descriptive approach

Pregnancy, Vaccination, Influenza, Risk

Full thesis

Aim To explore, interpret and develop an understanding of pregnant women’s experience of
being offered the seasonal influenza vaccination by their midwife and whether this affects the woman’s decision to either accept or decline the vaccine. Research Question ‘Does the
relationship between the woman and the midwife impact on the woman’s decision to accept or
decline the seasonal influenza vaccination in pregnancy?’ Objectives 1 To investigate factors
which when drawn from women’s experience of being offered the seasonal influenza vaccination, influence their decision to accept or decline the vaccine. 2 To explore whether women’s experience of the antenatal environment in which the midwife/ woman discussion takes place has any influence on the decision to accept or decline the vaccine. 3 To identify whether women’s experience differs according to their geographical location.

Methods The study was carried out within five geographical Boroughs within a large University Health Board in South East Wales. Semi-structured interviews were held with twelve pregnant women. A qualitative descriptive approach was used and data were analysed thematically. The theoretical framework of ‘reproductive citizenship’ developed by Wiley et al (2015) was used for interpretation of the study findings

Findings Women’s beliefs conflicted with their actions. Participants believed they were not at risk of influenza yet had the vaccination regardless. Characteristics of wanting to be a good mother and doing the right thing were evident, despite many competing priorities of pregnancy. The environment in which the women had their vaccination was not of concern and they displayed a quiescent approach to the influenza vaccination within the context of their antenatal care. Women placed trust in the midwife, relying on their advice without question. Discussion Fatalism, passive acceptance and influence of the healthcare professional was apparent, and participants spoke warmly of the ‘good midwife’. Magical beliefs and superstition explained the women’s perception of risk, derived from family experience. Fate, luck and perceived lack of control over life events framed women’s views. Women placed trust in the midwife taking comfort in that the knowledgeable professional was making the iii right decision ‘for them’ displaying traits of quiescent reproductive citizenship as characterised by Wiley et al (2015). Conclusion Influenza vaccination and the consequence of disease were perceived to be low down amongst many competing priorities of pregnancy. Participants did not believe that they were at risk of influenza disease and sometimes shifted responsibility for decision making to the midwife, placing trust in the mother / midwife relationship.

Dr Maria Healy

[email protected]

Institutional link


Rethinking postnatal care: A Heideggerian hermeneutic phenomenological study of postnatal care in Ireland

Postnatal care; Women's lived experiences; Future postnatal care possibilities; Heideggerian hermeneutical phenomenology

Full thesis

The postnatal period is an important and extremely vulnerable time for new mothers and their infants. Research has outlined the considerable extent of maternal physiological and psychological morbidity following childbirth. The underreporting and undiagnosed aspect of this morbidity has also been highlighted. Newborn infants are totally dependent on their needs being met and are also at risk of newborn conditions particularly if they are undiagnosed, for example neonatal jaundice. There is however, mounting evidence regarding the lack of postnatal support from health professionals, with women continuing to report their dissatisfaction with postnatal care. Research into postnatal care is pre-dominantly quantitative and clinically focused. Few empirical studies have examined the meaning women give to their postnatal care experiences. This research aims to generate a deeper understanding of the meanings, and lived experiences of postnatal care. In addition, it aims to reveal future possibilities to enhance women’s postnatal care experiences. Initially, an in-depth examination of relevant literature is undertaken followed by a presentation of the process and findings from a qualitative meta-synthesis. An in-depth exploration of Martin Heidegger’s biography and explication of his philosophy is then outlined. This research is a Heideggerian hermeneutical phenomenological study of Irish women’s aspirations for, and experiences of, postnatal care. Purposive sampling is utilised in this research, which was undertaken in two phases. Phase one involved group interviews over three different time periods
(between 28-38 weeks gestation, 2-8 weeks and 3-4 months postnatally), with a cohort of primigravid women and a cohort of multigravid women. The second phase involved recruiting two further cohorts of primigravid and multigravid women who participated in individual in-depth interviews over the same longitudinal period. In total nineteen women completed the study. Thirty-three interviews were held in total. The data analysis is guided by Crist and Tanner’s (2003) interpretative hermeneutic framework. The women’s aspirations/expectations for their postnatal care are represented through three interpretive themes: ‘Presencing’, ‘Breastfeeding help and support’ and ‘Dispirited perception of postnatal care’. In addition, five main themes emerged from the data and capture the meanings the women gave to their lived experiences of postnatal care: ‘Becoming Family’, ‘Seen or not seen’, ‘Saying what matters’, ‘Checked in but not always checked out’ and ‘The struggle of postnatal fatigue’. The original insights from this research clearly illuminate the vulnerability women face in the days following birth. A further in-depth interpretation and synthesis of the findings was undertaken. This philosophical-based discussion drew from the work of Heidegger (1962) and Arendt (1998). Engaging with these theoretical perspectives contributed to a new understanding about why some women within a similar context, have positive experiences of postnatal care while others do not. As such, the very nature that midwives and other postnatal carers are human beings has an influence on a woman’s experience of her care. These carers, in their exposition of ‘being’ have the ability to demonstrate ‘inauthentic’ or ‘authentic’ caring practices. It is those who choose to be ‘the sparkling gems’ that
are the postnatal carers who make a difference and stand out from the others. For the women in this study, their postnatal care experiences mattered. While some new mothers reported positive and meaningful experiences others revealed experiences which impacted unnecessarily. The relevance of these findings, recommendations and suggestions for future research are offered.

Dr Stephanie Heys

[email protected]


Conscientization for practice: The design and delivery of an immersive educational programme to
sensitise maternity professionals to the potential for traumatic birth experiences amongst
disadvantaged and vulnerable women.

Critical pedagogy, Birth trauma, immersive education, maternity

Full thesis

Institutional link

Birth is an important time in a woman’s life. While the journey into motherhood can be a
transformational and liminal experience, unfortunately, this is not the case for every woman. It is estimated that approximately 30 % of women experience childbirth as a traumatic event, with up
to 4% of women in community samples developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) following childbirth. It is also highlighted that women who are vulnerable and disadvantaged, due to complex life situations such as poor mental health, poverty and social isolation, are more
likely to experience birth trauma and PTSD onset. Recent research highlights that women’s subjective experience of birth is one of the most important factors in determining birth trauma, and that negative interactions with health care professionals are a key contributor to its development. The aim of this study was to develop and evaluate a training programme for maternity care providers to raise awareness of birth trauma amongst disadvantaged and
vulnerable women. A critical pedagogical approach was adopted so that the design of the programme would aid reflection, critical thinking and conscientization. This study includes a meta-ethnographic review, empirical interviews and the design and delivery of a tailored educational programme within an NHS Trust. Firstly, a meta- ethnography was undertaken to explore disadvantaged and vulnerable women’s negative experiences of maternity care in high
income countries. Noblit & Hare’s (1988) meta ethnographic approach was used and four themes were identified through the synthesis of eighteen studies; ‘Depersonalisation’
‘Dehumanisation’, ‘Them & us’ and ‘No care in the care’. Secondly, ten local disadvantaged and vulnerable women in North West of England were recruited and interviewed, exploring their
negative experiences of birth. A framework analysis was used to interpret the data, identifying
key triggers for birth trauma, focused on interpersonal interactions with maternity healthcare professionals. These findings were then compared against studies included in the metaethnography. Following these stages an innovative educational programme focused on birth trauma and PTSD was developed and evaluated. Key findings from the meta- ethnography and the empirical interviews informed the content of a filmed childbirth scenario that was embedded within a critical pedagogical framework. The scenario was delivered to participants’ using virtual reality (VR) technology, forming part of a 90- minute educational programme, in which maternity
professionals view the scenario iii from a first-person perspective. Other elements of the education programme involved providing statistical evidence on birth trauma and PTSD, a presentation of qualitative data collected during empirical phases, critical reflections and the development of actionable practice points to change/influence care practice, for self and others. Ten maternity professionals participated in the evaluation, with pre/post questionnaires and a follow-up session used to assess participants attitudes, knowledge and experiences prior, during and following attendance. Findings suggest the immersive educational programme increased participants understanding and knowledge of birth trauma and PTSD, with the use of VR as a tool for knowledge translation found to enhance critical reflection and facilitate praxis. While further research to test the efficacy of the educational programme on women’s birth experiences is needed, simulated first person realities, embedded within a critical pedagogical framework, offer
a unique and innovative approach to addressing interpersonal care in maternity and wider health- related contexts of care.

Dr Claire Hooks

[email protected]

Twitter: @ClaireHooks


An exploration of student midwives’ attitudes toward substance misusing women following a specialist education programme.

Substance Misuse, Pregnancy, Attitudes, Education

Full thesis

Substance misuse is a complex issue, fraught with many challenges for those affected. Whilst the literature suggests that pregnancy may be a ‘window of
opportunity’ for substance misusing women, it also suggests that there are barriers to women engaging with health care. One of these is fear of being judged and
stigmatised by healthcare professionals, including midwives. Previous research indicates midwives have negative regard toward substance users and that this in turn may lead to stigmatising behaviours and consequential substandard care provision. Midwives however, stress that they do not have appropriate training to effectively provide appropriate care for substance misusers. Research suggests that education is needed in this area to improve attitudes. In this study, the role of education in changing attitude toward substance use in pregnancy was explored using case study methodology. The case was a single delivery of a university degree programme distance learning module ‘Substance Misusing Parents,’ undertaken by 48 final year student midwives across 8 NHS Trusts. The research was carried out in 3 phases, using a mixture of Likert style questionnaires (Jefferson Scale of Physician Empathy and Medical Condition Regard Scale), Virtual Learning Environment discussion board qualitative data and semi structured interviews. The findings of the questionnaires showed empathy toward pregnant drug using women significantly improved following the module (p=0.012). Furthermore, exploration of the students’ experiences of the module demonstrated the importance of sharing and reflecting on practice; the experiences of drug users, both positive and negative; and having an opportunity to make sense of these experiences, as key in influencing their views. Furthermore, the findings indicated value in the mode of delivery, suggesting e-learning to be an effective approach. This research
demonstrates the potential of education in this area but also offers suggestions for educational delivery to reduce stigma in other areas of practice.

Dr Louise Jenkins

[email protected]

Twitter: @ljenkinsmidwife


Recovering the clinical history of the vectis: the role of standardised medical education and changing obstetric practice.

Vectis Education Practice

This thesis explores the use, and later non-use, of the vectis – an instrument invented in the seventeenth century by the Chamberlen family, along with its sister instrument, the forceps. Both instruments were designed to deliver a living baby when birth was obstructed by the head, but their histories were very different. In Britain, the forceps came into the public domain in 1733, the vectis in 1783, after which their respective merits were debated for over a century. Throughout that time, it was clear that both instruments were effective in sufficiently skilled hands, yet the forceps took over so decisively that by the early twentieth century the vectis had disappeared not only from clinical use, but also from the historiography of obstetric instruments. The central question addressed by the thesis is: why did the vectis disappear from clinical use? The thesis argues that the answer to that question is to be sought in the characteristics of clinical practice, skills and training. The vectis required a subtle set of manual skills, and the teaching of such skills was best favoured by individual apprenticeship; the use of the forceps was more easily reduced to rigid rules, and could therefore be taught in large classes. Thus, the shift to such classes around the middle of the nineteenth century favoured the forceps. To reconstruct that shift, this thesis explores the developing debates around medical education in the first half of the nineteenth century, bringing out the hitherto-neglected theme of the importance of midwifery training as a desideratum for the reformers. The link between pedagogic processes and clinical practice reflects the co-construction of users and technology of the Social Construction of Technology (SCOT) model, but requires some modification of that model, not least because the technological consequences of pedagogic change were entirely unintended.

Dr Lesley Kay


Engaging with the ‘modern birth story’ in pregnancy: A hermeneutic phenomenological study ofwomen’s experiences across two generations

Birth stories, Hermeneutic phenomenology, Heidegger, idle talk

Full thesis

This study considered how women from two different generations came to understand birth inthe context of their own experience but also in the milieu of other women’s stories. For thepurposes of this thesis the birth story (described as the ‘modern birth story’) encompassedpersonal oral stories as well as media and other representations of contemporary childbirth, allof which had the potential to elicit emotional responses and generate meaning in theinterlocutor. The research utilised a hermeneutic phenomenological approach underpinned bythe philosophies of Heidegger and Gadamer. Phenomenological conversations with theparticipants took place in the iterative circle of reading, writing and thinking. This revealed theexperience of ‘being-in-the-world’ of birth for the two generations of women and the way ofcommunicating within that world. From a Heideggerian perspective, the birth story wasconstructed through ‘idle talk’ (the taken for granted assumptions of how things are which comeinto being through language) and took place across a variety of media accessed by women, aswell as through face-to-face conversations. The data revealed that the lifeworld of birth beingsustained in stories (for both generations) was one of product and process, concentrating on thestages and progression of labour and the birth of a healthy baby as the only significantoutcome. This thesis revealed that the information gleaned from birth stories did not in factcreate meaningful knowledge and understanding about birth for these women. The workhighlights a need for further research to qualify the relationship between what women see andhear about birth and their expectation and consequent experience of birth. Further itdemonstrates that women should be given help and guidance to ‘unpack’ and understandnegative stories and portrayals of birth to mitigate the damaging effects of expectant fear.

Dr Angela Kerrigan

[email protected]

Twitter: @DrAngelaK


Care of obese women during labour: The development of a midwifery intervention to promote normal birth.

Obesity, Normal birth, Labour, Intervention

Full thesis

Normal birth, defined as birth without induction of labour, anaesthetic, instruments or caesarean section conveys significant maternal and neonatal benefits. Currently one-fifth of women in the United Kingdom are obese. There is evidence of the detrimental effects obesity has on intrapartum outcomes. There is a lack of research on how to minimise the associated risks of obesity through non-medicalised interventions and how to support obese women to maximise their opportunity for normal birth. This thesis aims to provide evidence to address this and develop an evidence-based intervention to promote normal birth. Using a methodological approach aligned with pragmatism, this research was conducted in four parts and underpinned by the MRC framework for the development of complex interventions. Part one was a national survey involving 24 maternity units. Part two was a qualitative study of the experiences of 24 health professionals and part three involved 8 obese women. The final part was a multi-disciplinary workshop that used consensus decision-making to design the intervention. Collectively, the findings suggest that intrapartum care of obese women is medicalised. Health professionals face challenges when caring for obese women but many strive to optimise the potential for normal birth by challenging practice and utilising ‘interventions’ to promote normality. The findings demonstrate that obese women have an intrinsic fear of pregnancy and birth, have a desire for normal birth and ‘obese pregnancy’ presents a window of opportunity for change. The intervention consists of three component parts: an educational aspect, a clinical aspect and a leadership aspect. Whilst acknowledging the importance of safety, increasing intervention during labour for obese women may further increase the risk of complications, with detrimental effects. Addressing intrapartum management of obese women through non-medicalised interventions is of paramount importance to promote normality, maximise the opportunity for normal birth and reduce the associated morbidities.

Dr Manuel Linares

[email protected]



Las matronas en el Jaén del siglo XX. El caso de la Comarca de Sierra Mágina

Matronas, Género, Historia de las Profesiones Sanitarias

Full thesis

Con la aproximación que hacemos en esta investigación a las matronas, parteras y cultura de nacimiento de la Comarca de Sierra Mágina hemos pretendidocontribuir al estudio de la historia de las mujeres en general, al de las matronas y parteras en particular y recuperar para siempre la historia de la cultura delnacimiento más reciente de la Comarca estudiada, una parcela del saber que estaba en peligro de ser enterrada por la propia actualización científica de lapráctica profesional. Nos hemos acercado a la dimensión socio-familiar, académica, profesional y humana de unas mujeres que jugaron un papel muyimportante en la salud de las mujeres y hombres de la provincia de Jaén. Este acercamiento lo hemos hecho a través de quienes configuraron su espacio derelaciones. El estudio de mujeres, parteras y matronas desde los grupos de discusión, la entrevista en profundidad, las visitas a los pueblos de la Comarca, y lainmersión en documentación archivística nos ha permitido, recoger de cerca, para después contar de lejos, con la objetividad que permiten estosinstrumentos, la experiencia individual de cada matrona y las relaciones que configuraron como consecuencia de su práctica profesional. La segunda parte deesta tesis aborda la cultura popular de nacimiento en una Comarca andaluza de la España rural de mediados del siglo XX.


Prof. Jayne Marshall

[email protected]

Twitter: @jayneemarshall


Informed consent during the intrapartum period: an observational study of the interactions between health professionals and women in labour involving consent to procedures.

Informed consent, Medical personnel and patient, Communication on the labour ward, Women in labour

Full thesis

This ethnographic study using participant observation, aimed to explore the issue of informed consent to procedures undertaken during the intrapartum period. It involved recruiting 100 healthy women, who went into labour spontaneously at term, at the point they were admitted to the labour ward. The data collection took place in a large teaching hospital in an East Midlands city from April 1997 until December 1999. The subjects (health professionals and women) were observed throughout the labour until the woman and baby were transferred to the postnatal area. Follow-up interviews were conducted with the woman and midwives, within24 hours, using a semi-structured format based on the observations. The study revealed that it was difficult to obtain informed consent during labour. Contrary to professional belief, not all women wanted to be fully informed about intrapartum care and procedures, or wanted anything other than a pain free and easy labour that they perceived the western medical-technocratic model of care would offer them. Although the midwives' knowledge of legal and ethical issues concerning consent was variable and limited in the majority of cases, they attempted to empower women to make intrapartum choices. However, this was often constrained by the culture of the labour ward environment and the extent to which they adhered to policies and procedures. In cases where medical intervention became necessary, a minority of midwives felt personally disempowered. The obstetricians and paediatricians observed, appeared to be less effective communicators than anaesthetists, often leaving it to the midwife to explain issues to the woman. It is envisaged that these findings, as well as the stereotypical models of the labouring woman and the attending midwife that developed, and the resulting recommendations, be used in partnership between maternity service and education providers to ensure that health professionals not only have effective communication and interpersonal skills, but also are more conversant with the legal and ethical implications of consent.

Dr. Elsa Montgomery

[email protected]

Voicing the silence: the maternity care experiences of women who were sexually abused in

Childhood sexual abuse, Maternity Care, Feminist research, Narrative

Full thesis


Childhood sexual abuse is a major but hidden public health issue estimated to affect approximately 20% of females and 7% of males. As most women do not disclose to healthcare professionals, midwives may unwittingly care for women who have been sexually abused. The purpose of this study was to address the gap in our understanding of women’s maternity care experiences when they have a history of childhood sexual abuse with the aim of informing healthcare practice. This narrative study from a feminist perspective, explored the maternity care experiences of women who were sexually abused in childhood. In-depth interviews with women, review of their maternity care records and individual and group interviews with maternity care professionals were conducted. The Voice-centred Relational Method (VCRM) was employed to analyse data from the in-depth interviews with women. Thematic analysis synthesised findings, translating the women’s narratives into a more readily accessible form. The main themes identified were: narratives of self, narratives of relationship, narratives of context and the childbirth journey. Medical records provided an additional narrative and data source providing an alternative perspective on the women’s stories. Silence emerged as a key concept in the narratives. This thesis contributes to ‘Voicing the silence’. The particular contribution of the study is its focus on the women’s voices and the use and development of VCRM to listen to them. It highlights where those voices are absent and where they are not heard. Women want their distress to be noticed, even if they do not want to voice their silence. The challenge for those providing maternity care is to listen and respond to their unspoken messages and to hear and receive their spoken ones with sensitivity.

Dr. Dominique Mylod 

[email protected]



Using a birth ball in the latent phase of labour to reduce pain perception, a randomised controlled trial.

Birth ball, Latent labour, Pain

Full thesis


Hospital admission in the latent phase of labour is associated with higher rates of obstetric intervention, with increased maternal and fetal morbidity. Women sent home from hospital in the latent phase to 'await events' feel anxious and cite pain as their main drive to seeking hospital admission. Using a birth ball to assume upright positions and remain mobile in the latent phase of labour in hospital is associated with less pain and anxiety. However, no research has examined the effect of using birth balls at home in the latent phase on pain perception, hospital admission or obstetric intervention. An animated infomercial was developed to promote birth ball use at home in the latent phase of labour to enhance women's self-efficacy, in order to reduce their pain perception. As a pragmatic randomised controlled single centre trial, 294 low risk women were randomly allocated to two groups. At 36 weeks’ gestation the Intervention Arm accessed the infomercial online and completed a modified Childbirth Self- Efficacy Inventory before and after viewing. They were also offered the loan of a birth ball to use at home. The Control Arm received standard care. On admission to hospital in spontaneous labour, all participants were asked to provide a Visual Analogue Scale score. Both groups were followed up six weeks postpartum with an online questionnaire. Data were analysed on an Intention To Treat basis. A significant increase was found in Outcome Expectancy and Self-efficacy Expectancy after accessing the infomercial and Intervention Arm participants were more likely to be admitted in active labour. No significant differences were found between the VAS scores, or intervention rates. Most respondents (89.2%) described the birth ball as helpful and reported high satisfaction, with comfort, empowerment and progress. The birth ball is a promising intervention to support women in the latent phase. Further research should consider a randomised cluster design.

Dr. Katerina Pink

[email protected]


Life history theory : how the childhood environment affects humans' later life outcomes such as reproductive and marriage behavior, educational attainment and income

Life history theory, Fertility, Female Reproductive Behavior

Full thesis


Human fertility behaviour and reproductive decision-making is highly influenced by social and economic factors and is expected to be driven also by evolutionary processes. The present thesis is looking at human fertility behaviour through the evolutionary lens and therefore provides novel insights to what extent biological, ecological and socio-economic factors shape fertility patterns and reproductive decision-making in different stages of the demographic transition and how they interfere with each other. The first study tests if exposure to high mortality within the natal family in
early childhood leads to faster and riskier reproductive strategies in pre-industrial European society. The results reveal that women who were exposed to high mortality cues within the natal family
were at a greater risk to reproduce earlier and outside a stable union. Giving birth to an illegitimate child served as a proxy for risky sexual behaviour. Further, the study shows that the risk of giving
birth out of wedlock is linked to individual mortality experience rather than to family-level effects. In contrast, adjustments in marital reproductive timing are influenced more by family-level effects than by individual mortality experience. The second study therefore investigates the impact of famine-related high mortality and social factors on union formation in a pretransitional/ transitional
European population. The results show that individuals accelerate their transition to marriage when they were exposed to high mortality cues during early childhood. These results further stress the importance of individual’s early life conditions on their life-history trajectory. The third study considers the findings that fertility behaviour and reproductive decision-making varies across social classes and sheds some light on sex-biased parental investment in a post-transitional Western population. The study reveals that parents bias their parental investment/support depending on their social class towards the sex with the higher expected reproductive success. Low status parents invest more in their daughters’ higher education, whereas high status parents invest more in their sons’ higher education.

Dr Hannah Rayment-Jones

[email protected]


Models of maternity care for women with low socioeconomic status and social risk factors: what works, for whom, in what circumstances, and how? A realist synthesis and evaluation

Social risk, models of care, inequality, continuity

Full thesis

Background Factors associated with poor childbirth outcomes and experiences of maternity care include; Black and minority ethnicity, poverty, young motherhood, homelessness, difficulty speaking or understanding English, domestic violence, mental illness and substance abuse. These women struggle to access and engage with services. It is not known what aspects of maternity care work to improve outcomes and experiences for women with social risk factors.

Methods This research aimed to uncover the mechanisms that lead to improved experiences and outcomes through an evaluation of two specialist models of maternity care. One model of care takes a local approach and was placed within an area of significant health inequality. The other was based within a hospital setting and provides care for women based on an inclusion criteria of social risk factors. Using a realist approach a synthesis of qualitative literature and focus groups with midwives working in the specialist models was conducted to develop preliminary theories regarding how, for whom and under what circumstances the model of care is thought to work. Quantitative data on birth outcome and service use measures for 1000 women accessing different models, including standard care, group practice and specialist models of care at two large, inner-city maternity services were prospectively collected analysed using multinominal regression. Longitudinal interviews with 20 women with social risk factors were conducted to refine the theories.

Results The specialist models of care appeared to mitigate the effects of inequality and revealed no adverse outcomes compared to other models of care. Women receiving the specialist models of care were significantly more likely to use water for pain relief in labour, have skin to skin contact with their baby shortly after birth, and be referred to social care and support services. Maternity care based in the community setting was associated with a significant decrease in induction of labour, preterm birth and low birth weight. A subgroup analysis found that the improved preterm birth outcome was particularly significant for women with the highest level of social complexity. The qualitative analysis highlighted possible mechanisms for these findings that were related to access, interpreter services, education, information and choice, continuity of care, social, emotional and practical support and stigma, discrimination, and perceptions of surveillance. Women experienced substandard care when they were not in the presence of a known healthcare professional. Women described the benefits of seeing a known healthcare professional during pregnancy and particularly valued not having to repeat often difficult social and medical histories. They described feeling able to disclose difficult circumstances to a known and trusted midwife. Women in the hospital-based model described a lack of local, community support and had difficulty integrating into unfamiliar support services.

Conclusions Carefully considered place-based care with a focus on continuity can create safe spaces for women and identify their specific needs. The quantitative data highlighted interesting relationships between all community-based models of care and neonatal outcomes that require further testing in future research. The identification of specific mechanisms will allow those developing maternity services to structure models of care around local need without losing the core aspects that lead to improved outcomes.

Dr Nicola Savory

[email protected]


Mothers Mood Study: women’s and midwives’ experiences of perinatal mental health and service provision

Perinatal mental health, Women

Full thesis

Background: Existing research on poor perinatal mental health largely focuses on recognition and treatment of postnatal depression. Consequently, there is a need to explore antenatal mental health. Aim: To assess poor mental health prevalence in pregnancy, its relationship to sociodemographic characteristics, self-efficacy and perceived support networks. To understand experiences and barriers preventing women with mental health problems from receiving help and explore midwives’ understanding of their role.

Method: Questionnaires were completed by women in early pregnancy. A subset identified to have mental health problems, were interviewed in late pregnancy to explore their experiences and barriers to receiving care. Midwives completed questionnaires exploring their experiences of supporting women with mental health problems and focus groups further discussed the issues raised.

Results: Amongst participants (n=302), the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS) identified 8.6%, and the Generalised Anxiety Disorder Assessment (GAD-7) 8.3%, with symptoms of depression or anxiety respectively. Low self-efficacy (p=0.01) and history of previous mental health problems (p<0.01) were most strongly associated with anxiety or depression. Thematic analysis of interviews with women (n=20) identified three themes: ‘past present and future’; ‘expectations and control’; and ‘knowledge and conversations’. Questionnaires were completed by 145 midwives. The three themes identified from the focus groups with midwives were: ‘conversations’; ‘it’s immensely complex’; and ‘there’s another gap in their care’.

Conclusion: Prevalence rates of anxiety and depression amongst women in early pregnancy were found to be similar to those reported in the literature. Low self-efficacy and previous poor mental health were significant predictors of anxiety and depression. Continuity and more time at appointments were suggested by midwives and women to improve discussions regarding mental health. Midwives were keen to support women but lacked knowledge and confidence. Consistent reference was made to the need for training regarding the practical aspects of supporting women’s mental health.

Dr Tomasina Stacey

[email protected]


Determinants of late stillbirth Auckland 2006-2009

Stillbirth, Epidemiology, New Zealand

Full thesis


Stillbirth is a devastating and too common outcome of pregnancy; globally there are approximately three million deaths after 28 weeks‟ gestation every year. In New Zealand, as in other high income countries, more than 1 in 200 babies die before birth, and around 1 in 300 die in the last three months of pregnancy. During the mid twentieth century there was a dramatic decline in the rate of stillbirth, however this improvement has not been sustained in recent years. Previous studies have identified certain causes and risk factors for late stillbirth, but over a third of the deaths remain unexplained. The current variation in the rate of stillbirths both across and within high income countries suggests that it is possible to make further improvements in stillbirth rates. We hypothesised that there would be modifiable, but as yet unidentified risk factors for late stillbirth. The Auckland Stillbirth Study was the first case control study to select women with ongoing pregnancies as gestation matched controls. This study found that the disparity in rates of late stillbirth in women from different ethnicities in New Zealand could be attributed to associated factors such as high parity, high body mass index and social deprivation. Regular utilisation of antenatal care was found to be protective, and women who attended at least 50% of recommended antenatal visits had a lower risk of stillbirth compared to those who did not. Antenatal identification of sub-optimal fetal growth was found to be a possible aspect of the benefit of regular antenatal attendance. Maternal perception of fetal movements was also identified as an area of importance, with women who perceived their baby's movements to decrease in the last two weeks of the pregnancy being at greater risk of experiencing a stillbirth. In addition this study found an association between maternal sleep practices and risk of late stillbirth. Most strikingly, the study found that women who went to sleep on their left side on the last night (prior to stillbirth/interview) were half as likely to experience a late stillbirth compared to women who went to sleep in any other position. This study has added a New Zealand perspective to the existing literature on certain known risk factors for late stillbirth (such as high body mass index). It has also identified novel factors that present new possibilities for further research and for the potential for future reductions in the incidence of late stillbirth.

Dr Mo Tabib

[email protected]

Twitter: @TabibM2


A Different Way of Being The Influence of a Single Antenatal Relaxation Class on Maternal Psychological Wellbeing and Childbirth Experience An Exploratory Sequential Mix-Method Study

Relaxation, Perinatal Psychological Wellbeing, Childbirth Experience, Antenatal Education

Full thesis


Background: Perinatal mental health problems are prevalent, have a wide range of adverse effects on the mother and her child, and are predictors of negative childbirth experiences. Therefore, improving perinatal mental health is a global public health priority and developing services that could promote it must be a priority for maternity services. There is growing evidence that antenatal education incorporating hypnosis or guided imagery techniques may have the potential to promote perinatal mental health and positive childbirth experiences. However, high-quality research in the field is lacking. Aim and objectives: This study aimed to explore the influence of a single 3- hour Antenatal Relaxation Class (ARC), incorporating theory on childbirth physiology, hypnosis and guided imagery, on maternal psychological wellbeing and childbirth experiences. The objectives of the study were to: a) identify the aspects of maternal psychological wellbeing and childbirth experiences that may be influenced by ARC, b) understand ‘why’ and ‘how’ any influence may occur, c) identify the factors that may mitigate the influence of ARC during labour and birth, and d) test the significance of any influence over time.

Methods: The study took an exploratory sequential mixed-method approach. In the initial qualitative phase, a purposive sample of 17 women and 9 birth partners participated in either individual (8 women) or joint (9 women and their birth partners) semi-structured in-depth interviews. The data were analysed using descriptive qualitative and reflexive thematic analysis. The follow up quantitative phase was a prospective longitudinal cohort study that used surveys to further examine childbirth experiences and measure psychological wellbeing in a sample of 91 women at three time points: pre-class, post-class, and post-birth.

Findings: Attending ARC was associated with increased childbirth self-efficacy, reduced fear of childbirth and state and trait anxiety, as well as improved mental wellbeing. These changes were significant and lasted over time, until after the birth. Attitudes towards childbirth changed after attendance at ARC, which motivated wide use of relaxation techniques as a self-care behaviour during pregnancy, labour, birth and beyond. Use of relaxation techniques was perceived to positively influence women’s childbirth experiences and choices including a decline in choice of epidural use for labour pain. The efficacy of the learned techniques in the management of labour pain, however, depended on the ‘birth space’ which encompassed the physical environment, interactions with birth attendants and the clinical picture of the experience.

Conclusion: Incorporating theory on childbirth physiology, hypnosis and guided imagery in childbirth education can enhance perinatal psychological wellbeing and childbirth experiences. Providing relevant education for birth practitioners may contribute to a salutogenic model of childbirth care in which practitioners can facilitate childbirth education as well as a birth space that is conducive to experiencing an altered state of consciousness as a health promoting state.

Dr Lisa Vallely

[email protected]


Unsafe Abortion and Unsupervised Births: Understanding the Challenges of Pregnancy and Childbirth in the Rural Highlands of Papua New Guinea

Unsafe Abortion, Unsupervised Births, Access to Care

Full thesis


Papua New Guinea (PNG) has one of the highest maternal mortality ratios in the world. Postpartum haemorrhage and sepsis related to childbirth and unsafe abortion are the leading causes of death. In PNG around 60% of women give birth unsupervised. This study was conducted the Eastern Highlands of PNG and used a mixed methods approach. This thesis is divided into two themes: unsafe abortion and community experiences and perceptions of pregnancy and childbirth; and describes a community-based intervention to improve maternal health outcomes. Unsafe abortion to end an unwanted pregnancy resulting in severe, acute morbidity was identified among young women presenting to the Eastern Highlands Provincial Hospital. Compared to those women who presented following a spontaneous abortion, those presenting following an induced abortion were significantly more likely to be younger, unmarried and a student (either at school or university). Obtained illegally, misoprostol was the most frequently used method to end pregnancy. Despite knowledge relating to complications that can occur during childbirth, many women continued to give birth, unsupervised in the community. Women faced numerous challenges in accessing care, particularly during childbirth. The implementation of a community-based package of interventions, providing clean birth kits and misoprostol for self-administration was feasible and highly acceptable in this setting. Through review of the findings identified in this thesis, one key factor emerged that influenced maternal health outcomes: access to health care. This key factor underpins the uptake of appropriate health care for two vulnerable groups of women: women with poorly timed pregnancies; and women during pregnancy and childbirth.

Dr Shawn Walker

[email protected]


Competence and expertise in physiological breech birth

Physiological breech birth, Competence, Delphi, Grounded theory

Full thesis

This doctoral thesis by prospective publication aims to provide pragmatic, evidence-based guidance for the development and evaluation of physiological breech skills and services within the context of contemporary maternity care. The research uses multiple methods to explore development of professional competence and expertise. While skill and experience are acknowledged in multiple national guidelines as important safety factors in vaginal breech birth, prior to this research no guidance existed about how skill and experience should be defined, developed and evaluated. The thesis begins with an integrative review of the efficacy of current breech training methods, highlighting a lack of evidence associating any training methods with improved outcomes for breech births. Following this are two papers reporting the results of a Delphi consensus technique study involving a panel of breech experienced obstetricians, midwives and service user representatives. The first outlines standards of competence, training components and volume of experience recommended to achieve competence and maintain proficiency in upright breech birth. The second outlines principles of practice for physiological breech birth, rooted in relationship and response, and divergent from medicalised practices based on prediction and control. Following this is a grounded theory paper exploring the deliberate acquisition of breech competence among midwives and obstetricians with moderate upright breech experience. The paper reports a theoretical model that can inform development of breech teams and training programmes. The final paper reports a mixed methods analysis of data from the Delphi and grounded theory studies concerning breech expertise. The results present a model of generative expertise, underpinned by affinity, flexibility and relationship, which may function to increase the availability and safety of vaginal breech birth. Each paper is followed by critical analysis and reflection. The thesis ends with a discussion of the implications for practice and research in light of the overall body of work.

Dr Kylie Watson

[email protected]


The Use of Telemetry to Monitor the Fetal Heart during Labour: A mixed methods study

Labour, telemetry, wireless monitoring, Control

Full thesis


Background: Wireless fetal heart rate monitoring (telemetry) is increasingly being used by maternity units in the UK. Guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care and Excellence recommend that telemetry is offered to any woman who needs continuous monitoring of the fetal heart in labour. There is no contemporary evidence on the use of telemetry in the UK.

Aims: To gather in-depth knowledge about the experiences of women and midwives using telemetry to monitor the fetal heart in labour and to assess any impact that the use of telemetry may have on clinical outcomes, mobility in labour or control and satisfaction.

Study design: A convergent parallel mixed methods design was chosen.

Methods: Qualitative methods included in-depth interviews with 10 women, 2 partners, 12 midwives and one student midwife from two NHS Trusts in the Northwest of England. A constructivist grounded theory methodology was employed for this phase and used both purposive and theoretical sampling. All interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim. The quantitative phase recruited 161 women from both sites and compared clinical outcome and mobility data from 74 women who used telemetry during labour and 87 women who had conventional wired monitoring. Women also were asked to complete a questionnaire in the postnatal period on control and satisfaction during labour and birth. Questionnaire data was analysed from 128 women, 64 who used telemetry and 64 who had conventional wired monitoring. Both sets of data were integrated to give an overall broad understanding of telemetry use.

Findings: The grounded theory core category was ‘Telemetry: A Sense of Normality’ and was described by three sub-categories. ‘Being Free’ described women being more mobile when using telemetry in labour and experiencing greater feelings of control, normality, and support. Telemetry also increased dignity for women as they were able to use the bathroom independently and with ease. ‘Enabling and facilitating’ described midwives facilitating the use of telemetry, encouraging mobility and using midwifery skills including caring for women in a birth pool. ‘Culture and Change’ described the different maternity unit cultures and how this impacted on the use of telemetry. Telemetry was viewed as increasing choice and equity for women with more complex pregnancies. Within the quantitative phase there was no difference in the aggregate scores for either the Perceived Control in Childbirth (PCCh) scale or the Satisfaction with Childbirth (SWCh) scale. Sub-group analysis found that women who used telemetry for the majority of the time the fetus was continuously monitored in labour scored a higher aggregate score for perceived control during labour (mean ± SD; 5.3 ±0.8 telemetry vs. 4.9 ± 0.9 wired, p = 0.047). Mobility data found that women using telemetry spentmore time off the bed in labour and adopted more upright positions for birth.

Conclusions: Both qualitative and quantitative findings confirmed that women were more mobile in labour when using telemetry to monitor the fetal heart and integrated findings also found that telemetry increased feelings of control in labour. The use of telemetry had a positive impact on women who required continuous monitoring in labour and engendered a sense of normality for both women and midwives. The use of telemetry contributes to humanising birth for women requiring more complex care in labour and birth.

Dr Lucie Warren

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Keeping the balance: promoting physical activity and healthy dietary behaviour in pregnancy

Motivational Interviewing, Self Determination Theory, Behaviour Change, Pregnancy

Full thesis

Gaining large amounts of weight during pregnancy may contribute to development of obesity and is associated with poor outcomes. Therefore managing gestational weight gain is important to reduce the risk of complications. This thesis aims to explore clinical and personal management of gestational weight gain and to discover how pregnant women can be best supported to maintain physical activity and healthy dietary behaviours. This is achieved through a programme of research comprising three related studies. Study One explored the antenatal clinical management of weight and weight gain through one-to-one interviews with Antenatal Clinical Midwifery Managers across Wales (n=11). Findings showed wide variation in management of weight from unit to unit. Although midwives believed pregnancy to be a perfect opportunity to encourage healthier behaviours, many identified barriers preventing them discussing weight with women. In Study Two semi-structured interviews with pregnant women (n=15) investigated views on personal weight management during pregnancy. Again pregnancy was seen as an ideal time to improve health behaviours due to a perceived increase in motivation and many women identified specific goals. However, in the face of various barriers, it was apparent that the motivation which initially identified healthy lifestyle goals was unable to sustain this behaviour throughout the pregnancy. Finally Study Three looked at the feasibility and acceptability of a midwife-led intervention informed by the two preliminary studies. The ‘Eat Well Keep Active’ intervention programme designed to promote healthy eating and physical activity in pregnant women (n=20) was based upon the Self Determination Theory framework for enhancing and maintaining motivation and utilised motivational interviewing. Results indicated that the intervention was received well by participants who reported that it positively influenced their health behaviours. The ‘Eat Well Keep Active’ programme may be a suitable intervention to encourage and facilitate women to pursue a healthier lifestyle throughout their pregnancy.

Dr Sara Webb

[email protected]

An investigation of subsequent birth after Obstetric Anal Sphincter Injury

OASI, Perineal Trauma, Subsequent birth

Full thesis


Obstetric anal sphincter injuries (OASIS) are serious complications of vaginal birth with a reported average worldwide incidence of 4%-6%. They are a recognised major risk factor for anal incontinence resulting in concern amongst women who sustain such injuries when considering the most suitable mode of birth in a subsequent pregnancy. This thesis contains three studies; a systematic review and meta-analysis of the published literature exploring the impact of a subsequent birth and it’s mode on bowel function and/or QoL for women with previous OASIS, a follow-up study on the long-term effects of OASIS on bowel function and QoL and finally a prospective cohort study of women with previous OASIS to assess the impact of subsequent birth and its mode on change in bowel function. The work in this thesis demonstrated an increase in incidence of bowel symptoms in women with previous OASIS over time and that short-term bowel symptoms were significantly associated with bowel symptoms and QoL. This thesis also showed that the mode of subsequent birth was not significantly associated with bowel symptoms or QoL and for women with previous OASIS who have normal bowel function and no anal sphincter disruption a subsequent vaginal birth is a suitable option.