Why the words we use to talk about birth matter

Last year the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) launched the Re:birth project, which aimed to develop a shared language around birth. Find out more.

Exploring language around birth

The Re:birth project was established to agree on how we should talk about different types of birth. It has done this by asking parents who have given birth, and professions concerned with maternity services, to fill out surveys about how language should be used. In total, the project received over 8,000 responses.

Understandable and clear language

Key criteria agreed for deciding on language to be used were that any term used must be clear, descriptive and accurate. It should be neither judgmental nor value-laden; and should be reflective of the birthing person’s experience, without assumptions made about this.

It was positive to see these thoughtful and sensitive approaches agreed by others

In addition, it was essential that all language be consistently understood between individuals and professional groups, and specific enough to identify differences among modes of labour and birth.

Phrases that were popular in the survey included ‘spontaneous vaginal birth’, ‘birth with forceps’ and ‘caesarean birth’.

There was also agreement that negative terms such as ‘failure’, ‘incompetent’ and ‘lack of maternal effort’ shouldn’t be used as they are unnecessary and can add to a women’s feelings of disempowerment and guilt after a difficult birth.

Elizabeth Duff, NCT’s Senior Policy Advisor who was involved in the project, said: “Much of the good practice identified is already part of how we speak and write about births, but it was positive to see these thoughtful and sensitive approaches agreed by others and discussed constructively during harmonious and respectful meetings.”

More info

To find out more about the Re:birth project and its outcomes, click here.