Midwives' and obstetricians' practice, perspectives and experiences in relation to altered fetal movement: A focused ethnographic study
Reducing avoidable stillbirth is a global priority. The stillbirth rate in England compares unfavourably to that of some other high-income countries. Poorly-managed episodes of altered fetal movement have been highlighted as a key contributor to avoidable stillbirth, and strategies introduced in England in 2016 to reduce perinatal mortality included recommendations for the management of reduced fetal movement. Despite a downward trend in stillbirth rates across the UK, the effects of policies promoting awareness of fetal movement remain uncertain.
To provide in-depth knowledge of how practice and clinical guidance relating to altered fetal movement are perceived, enacted and experienced by midwives and obstetricians, and explore the relationship between recommended fetal movement care and actual fetal movement care.
Antenatal services at two UK maternity units, one in the Midlands and one in the North of England.
Thirty-six midwives, obstetricians and sonographers and 40 pregnant women participated in the study across 52 observed care episodes and relevant unit activity. Twelve midwives and three obstetricians additionally participated in formal semi-structured interviews.
Fieldnotes, interview transcripts, policy documents, maternity notes and clinical guidelines were analysed using a modified constant comparison method to identify important themes.
fetal movement practice was mostly consistent and in line with guideline recommendations. Notwithstanding, most midwives and obstetricians had concerns about this area of care, including challenges in diagnosis, conflicting evidence about activity, heightened maternal anxiety, and high rates of monitoring and intervention in otherwise low-risk pregnancies. To address these issues, midwives spent considerable time reassuring women through information and regular monitoring, and coaching them to perceive fetal movement more accurately.
Practice relating to altered fetal movement might be more uniform than in the past. However, a heightened focus on fetal movement is associated by some midwives and obstetricians with potential harms, including increased anxiety in pregnancy, and high rates of monitoring and intervention in pregnancies where there are no ‘objective concerns’. Challenges in diagnosing a significant change in fetal movement with accuracy might mean that interventions and resources are not being directed towards those pregnancies most at risk. More research is needed to determine how healthcare professionals can engage in conversations about fetal movement and stillbirth to support safe outcomes and positive experiences in pregnancy and birth.
This research was undertaken as part of a PhD studentship funded by the University of Leicester, with additional funding from the Health Foundation.
Author affiliationDepartment of Population Health Sciences, University of Leicester
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