'Not waving but drowning': a study of the experiences and concerns of midwives and other health professionals caring for obese childbearing women. Schmied VA, Duff M, Dahlen HG, Mills AE, Kolt GS. Midwifery. 2010 Apr 6.
School of Nursing and Midwifery, College of Health and Science, University of Western Sydney, Building EB, Parramatta Campus, Locked Bag 1797, Penrith South DC, NSW 1797, Australia.
OBJECTIVE: to explore the experiences and concerns of health professionals who care for childbearing women who are obese.
BACKGROUND: obesity is increasing nationally and internationally and has been described as an epidemic. A number of studies have highlighted the risks associated with obesity during childbirth, yet few studies have investigated the experiences and concerns of midwives and other health professionals in providing care to these women.
DESIGN: a descriptive qualitative study using focus groups and face-to-face interviews to collect data. Interviews were audio recorded and transcribed verbatim. Data were analysed using thematic analysis.
SETTING: three maternity units in New South Wales, Australia.
PARTICIPANTS: participants included 34 midwives and three other health professionals.
FINDINGS: three major themes emerged from the data analysis: 'a creeping normality', 'feeling in the dark' and 'the runaway train'. The findings highlight a number of tensions or contradictions experienced by health professionals when caring for childbearing women who are obese.
These include, on the one hand, an increasing acceptance of obesity ('a creeping normality'), and on the other, the continuing stigma associated with obesity; the challenges of how to communicate effectively with pregnant women about their weight and the lack of resources, equipment and facilities ('feeling in the dark') to adequately care for obese childbearing women. Participants expressed concerns about how quickly the obesity epidemic appears to have impacted on maternity services ('the runaway train') and how services to meet the needs of these women are limited or generally not available.
CONCLUSION AND IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE: it was clear in this study that participants felt that they were 'not waving but drowning'. There was concern over the fact that the issue of obesity had moved faster than the health response to it. There were also concerns about how to communicate with obese women without altering the relationship. Continuity of care, training and skills development for health professionals, and expansion of limited services and facilities for these women are urgently needed.
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