Women’s experience of early labour in a free-standing birth centre: Midwifing embodied labour

Stone, Nancy Iris and Downe, Soo orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-2848-2550 (2023) Women’s experience of early labour in a free-standing birth centre: Midwifing embodied labour. Women and Birth, 36 (6). pp. 538-545. ISSN 1871-5192

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Official URL: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wombi.2023.02.008


Women who present at hospital labour wards in early labour must often meet measurable diagnostic criteria before admission.

Early labour is a phase of neurohormonal, emotional, and physical changes that are often not measurable. When admission to birthplace is based on results of diagnostic procedures, women’s embodied knowledge may be disregarded.

To describe the early labour experience of women with spontaneous onset of labour in a free-standing birth centre, as well as midwifery care when women arrived in labour.

An ethnographic study was conducted in 2015 in a free-standing birth centre after receiving ethics approval. The findings for this article were drawn from a secondary analysis of the data, which included interview data with women and detailed field notes of midwives’ activities related to early labour.

The women in this study were instrumental in the decision-making process to stay at the birth centre. Observational data showed that vaginal exams were rarely conducted when women arrived at the birth centre and were not a deciding factor in admission.

The women and midwives co-constructed early labour based on the lived experience of women and the meaning that this experience held for both.

Given the growing concern about the need for respectful maternity care, this study provides examples of good practice in listening to women, as well as an illustration of the consequences of not doing so.

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