Conditions that threaten women’s lives in childbirth & pregnancy

Communication with health professionals

Understanding what was happening to them was very important to the women who experienced emergencies in childbirth, and to their partners and families. The timescale of the emergencies varied. In some cases, health professionals had time to explain their condition to the women and families so they were able to understand their condition before the birth of their baby. In other cases, emergencies developed fast so there wasn’t much time for explanations until afterwards. Below we discuss what women and their partners told us about communication with health professionals during the emergency and while they were still in hospital. (See Information, support and support groups’ to see what people told us about their information needs after they went home.)

Several women described good communication with doctors about the emergency, particularly those who had a condition which developed more slowly so there was time for clear explanations and questions beforehand.
Sometimes the obstetric emergency developed so quickly that there was little time for explanations. Even so, women appreciated calm reassurance from medical staff, and the opportunity to ask more questions once the emergency was over. Karen had an emergency hysterectomy. She described a “steady stream” of doctors coming to see her when she was in intensive care even though she hadn’t yet grasped the seriousness of what had happened to her.
Some women felt that communication was could have been better. Kerry and Sarah both had placenta praevia but in contrast to Alex did not feel doctors had explained to them the risks of haemorrhage or hysterectomy.
Kate felt that after her emergency the communication between staff on different shifts could have been better.
Several partners we spoke to pointed out the importance of doctors using clear language when speaking to them. Craig said, “I don’t want to hear medical talk, you know, you’ve used big long words that I have no idea what they mean. Is my wife going to be OK?” But being open and honest about the situation was also important.
Several people we spoke to stressed the importance of clear communication. It was important to be listened to, not to be treated as a number and to feel that the staff actually cared about them. Mark (whose wife was rushed to hospital for an emergency caesarean after a placental abruption where the placenta separates from the lining of the womb) felt someone should have taken the time to fill him in on what was happening as he was waiting for news of her surgery. “I’m a pretty sturdy guy, so I could withstand it. But someone who was not quite as robust as me might have gone to pieces at that point not knowing what was going on.” Kerry felt that midwives and doctors just talked over her. “I think they just forget the patient is there, and they talk around you and you’re left there and you think…..what are they talking about?”
Sometimes it was the little things that made a big difference to women and their partners. When the consultant rubbed Naomi’s cheek and reassured her that she would look after her just before she had a general anaesthetic to deliver her baby, it made a big difference to her.

Last reviewed April 2016.


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