Women’s, partners’ and healthcare providers’ views and experiences of assisted vaginal birth: a systematic mixed methods review

Crossland, Nicola orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-1063-8123, Kingdon, Carol orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-5958-9257, Balaam, Marie-Clare orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-4511-7352, Betrán, Ana Pilar and Downe, Soo orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-2848-2550 (2020) Women’s, partners’ and healthcare providers’ views and experiences of assisted vaginal birth: a systematic mixed methods review. Reproductive Health, 17 (83).

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Official URL: https://doi.org/10.1186/s12978-020-00915-w


When certain complications arise during the second stage of labour, assisted vaginal delivery (AVD), a vaginal birth with forceps or vacuum extractor, can effectively improve outcomes by ending prolonged labour or by ensuring rapid birth in response to maternal or fetal compromise. In recent decades, the use of AVD has decreased in many settings in favour of caesarean section (CS). This review aimed to improve understanding of experiences, barriers and facilitators for AVD use.

Systematic searches of eight databases using predefined search terms to identify studies reporting views and experiences of maternity service users, their partners, health care providers, policymakers, and funders in relation to AVD. Relevant studies were assessed for methodological quality. Qualitative findings were synthesised using a meta-ethnographic approach. Confidence in review findings was assessed using GRADE CERQual. Findings from quantitative studies were synthesised narratively and assessed using an adaptation of CERQual. Qualitative and quantitative review findings were triangulated using a convergence coding matrix.

Forty-two studies (published 1985–2019) were included: six qualitative, one mixed-method and 35 quantitative. Thirty-five were from high-income countries, and seven from LMIC settings. Confidence in the findings was moderate or low. Spontaneous vaginal birth was most likely to be associated with positive short and long-term outcomes, and emergency CS least likely. Views and experiences of AVD tended to fall somewhere between these two extremes. Where indicated, AVD can be an effective, acceptable alternative to caesarean section. There was agreement or partial agreement across qualitative studies and surveys that the experience of AVD is impacted by the unexpected nature of events and, particularly in high-income settings, unmet expectations. Positive relationships, good communication, involvement in decision-making, and (believing in) the reason for intervention were important mediators of birth experience. Professional attitudes and skills (development) were simultaneously barriers and facilitators of AVD in quantitative studies.

Information, positive interaction and communication with providers and respectful care are facilitators for acceptance of AVD. Barriers include lack of training and skills for decision-making and use of instruments.

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