The experience of being a traditional midwife: relationships with skilled birth attendants

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Introduction: This article focuses on an unexpected finding of a research project which explored the experience of being a traditional midwife. The unexpected finding was that traditional midwives often perceive skilled (professional) birth attendants to be abusive of both them and the women who are transferred to hospital for emergency obstetric care. Methods: Eighty-four traditional midwives in the Western Province of Kenya were interviewed individually or in groups with a Bukusu/Kiswahili/English-speaking interpreter. Interviews were audiotaped and the English components were transcribed
verbatim. Interview transcripts and observations were thematically analysed. Results: A minority of relationships between traditional midwives and skilled birth attendants were based on mutual respect and collaborative practice. However, the majority of encounters with skilled birth attendants were perceived by the traditional midwives to be abusive for them and the women requiring emergency obstetric care. In the interests of improving health outcomes for women and their newborns, interpersonal skills, including maintaining respectful communication and relationships must be a
core competency for all caregivers. Providing opportunities for reciprocal learning and strategies to enhance relationships between traditional midwives and skilled birth attendants are recommended.
Conclusion: Current global strategies to reduce maternal and newborn mortality by increasing the number of women birthing with a skilled (professional) birth attendant in an enabling environment may be limited while the reasons for traditional midwives being the caregiver of choice for the majority of women living in areas such as Western Kenya remain unaddressed.

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