On 9 February, the UK paper The Telegraph published an article on a new language guideline aimed at midwives. The guideline, published in The British Medical Journal, tells midwives not to say things like “good girl” to women in labour, because it is “disrespectful“. In the guideline itself, the authors say the changes are needed in order to “instil a culture of respect” for mothers-to-be. The guideline has since been backed up by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), with the idea being, that “using the right language could reduce anxiety in women in labour, cutting the rates of complications.

Example from the advice given by The Telegraph

Note that it is not recommended to say ‘she’, unless ‘she’ declines advice. Then it’s alright. Just imagine being in a room and someone talking about you by constantly saying your name:

There are changes in the baby’s heart rate pattern, Dave. The woman, Dave, I’m caring for. Dave is doing really well. Dave gave birth. I’ll go and ask if Dave is happy with that. I would recommend caesarean birth, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t let you do that, Dave.’

The authors, professor Andrew Weeks from the International Maternal Health Care at the University of Liverpool, Natalie Mobbs, a medical student at Liverpool, and Catherine Williams, a committee member of National Maternity Voices, write in The BMJ that:

Language matters as a way of respecting women’s views and ensuring that they are empowered to make decisions. The use of insensitive language can be indicative of an underlying malaise, which reveals underlying attitudes and prejudices. It is essential that we achieve respectful practice, ensuring that women have complete understanding and control of their own care. (…) Although eyes may roll at the thought of ‘political correctness gone mad,’ the change is well founded.

The guide seems to be of two minds: on the one hand, it calls for the replacement of precise, but clinical jargon with “plain language that she [!] can understand.” On the other hand, it asks midwives to avoid ‘discouraging language’. ‘Terminate pregnancy’ should become ‘compassionate induction’, attempts are ‘unsuccessful’ rather than ‘failed’ and ‘high risk’ becomes ‘medically complex’.

According to Edward Morris, RCOG vice president, the guideline “highlights the importance of creating a culture of respect for women during pregnancy, labour and after birth.

But is treating people as individuals who will be hurt by mere well-intended words, truly a form of respect? One wonders.