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Last Updated: Saturday, 14 June, 2003, 23:20 GMT 00:20 UK
Mums-to-be 'don't want to make a fuss'
Pregnant woman
Pregnant women are ashamed of their outbursts in labour
"Sorry" is a word frequently used by women in labour, according to midwives.

As part of a study into how women viewed giving birth, researchers looked at how mothers-to-be behaved.

They found women constantly apologise for crying out in pain, or behaving "inappropriately" when they are giving birth.

Their shyness is due to women feeling they are in a public place and cannot make a fuss, according to Jane Walker, a consultant midwife at London's Homerton Hospital.

All these people were looking in the ward, staring at me like I wasn't there
Mother's description of an examination during labour

Ms Walker said women's concerns stemmed from the fact they were going through something which they felt was intimate in a very public place.


She told BBC News Online: "Women feel that they need to maintain a degree of equilibrium."

She said part of the problem was that mothers-to-be did not know the staff who were dealing with them in maternity units.

"It's very difficult to be confident about showing vulnerability and emotions when you're with people you do not know."

They also feel ashamed that they can lose control of bodily functions, she said.

But one thing women were unable to control their responses to was the way they were examined.


Vaginal examinations where a woman was fully uncovered, not told why she was being examined that way or examined in a rough manner were particularly distressing.

Women do find vaginal examinations uncomfortable, but they are a necessary part of care in labour
Dr Maggie Blott, Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology
Many of those Ms Walker spoke to said they had been angered and upset by the way doctors and midwives approached the checks.

Ms Walker said in the past, vaginal examinations were carried out in the full view of other mothers - or directly opposite the doors of the labour ward.

One mother, on being examined roughly by a doctor, said she yelled: "Get your fingers out of me!"

Another said: "All these people were looking in the ward, staring at me like I wasn't there."

Ms Walker said there were other ways of assessing how far into their labour women were, without carrying out frequent vaginal examinations.

"You can look at their breathing, how they are behaving, the intensity of contractions and how far the baby has descended.

"Simple things such as moving the bed around so it is private, and the woman cannot be seen from the rest of the labour ward, can help."

For her research, Ms Walker spoke to women who had not yet had children, women who had, and midwives to gain different perspectives on giving birth.


But Dr Maggie Blott of the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology told BBC News Online: "Women do find vaginal examinations uncomfortable, but they are a necessary part of care in labour.

"There is a view that they don't need to be done, but they do.

"But they should be done carefully and with the woman's modesty and privacy protected as much as possible."

Dr Blott said the only way women would be able to get to know the staff who would be with them during labour was if there were more midwives so that mothers-to-be could have the same one throughout pregnancy.

And she added: "I think people might feel even more embarrassed if they were with people they know."

Ms Walker presented her findings to the National Childbirth Trust's annual conference in London.

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