The Effect that Internet Use in Pregnancy has on the Midwife-Woman Relationship

The effect that internet use in pregnancy has on the relationship between a pregnant woman and her midwife has been hotly debated through the various outcomes of different studies. As this relationship must be deeply personal in order for trust between the two women to flourish, I personally believe that qualitative studies would be far more accurate in conveying the depth of such a relationship, as well as painting a more elaborate picture of the factors that affect it. However, the majority of studies based on the topic that have been conducted in the UK so far are surprisingly quantitative (Declarq et al. 2006; Llarson 2009; Lagan et al. 2010; Lagan et al. 2011; Lima Pereira et al. 2012), according to Weston and Anderson (2014). The results of the ‘Internet Use in Pregnancy’ study, in which 13 midwives, 7 antenatal and 6 postnatal women participated in 3 different focus groups and 7 in-depth interviews, found that although all three groups positively valued appropriate internet usage, when it came to discussing inappropriate usage the majority of the midwives’ views were negative[1].

It would be interesting to note that the authors suggest that these results may be caused by a lack of knowledge or awareness of current pregnancy websites use on the midwives’ part, demonstrating a need for midwives to be trained in providing care via the internet; greater collaboration may be needed between midwives and pregnant women so that there can be a significant improvement in appropriate internet use, and so that the latter can consistently access reliable, verified information from the internet. Could this deficit in knowledge result in a rift developing between midwives and pregnant women, driving a lack of trust in those who are supposed to be confident in providing the information that their clients are consequently being forced to find for themselves?

A different qualitative study (comprised of 14 women who received midwifery care in different NHS Trusts across England), used a closed Facebook group to determine and examine the views of women on the delivery and reception of messages from public health services. As midwives are supposed to be the main port of call for their clients for medical advice and support during their pregnancies, the outcome of the study should represent a sample of the public’s perceptions of the role of midwives. The findings indicated that there are two major barriers which prevent midwives from fulfilling their roles effectively: lack of continuity of care and time constraints (November 2016)[2]. If we look specifically at the theme of time constraints, we can see that many of the women felt that some midwives treated the way in which they provided information as a ‘tick-list’, which was commonly viewed as an insensitive and unprofessional approach to care.

With regards to internet use in pregnancy, it’s apparent that although the women found it to be a source of stress, they weren’t dissuaded from using it frequently to find information. Therefore, perhaps midwives should develop a greater internet presence to ensure at the very least that this information is from a safe, reliable source, which again underlines the need for midwives to be trained in providing care in this manner. As a result of this, we could argue that it’s a combination of inappropriate and unregulated internet usage by pregnant women, as well as a lack of internet use (or even knowledge) by midwives caused by a lack of training that is putting a serious strain on their relationship. In my next post, I will examine the reasons behind the lack of internet use by midwives in greater depth, and explore the different ways in which the internet can be used to improve the midwife-woman relationship as opposed to weakening it.

[1] Weston, C., and Anderson, J.L., 2014. Internet use in pregnancy. British Journal of Midwifery, 22(7), 488–493.

[2] November, L., 2016. Are we getting the message across? Women’s perceptions of public health messages in pregnancy. British Journal of Midwifery, 24(6), 396–402.

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