What is family-centered maternity care & why it matters

While I didn’t know the exact definition of family-centered maternity care (FCMC) when I was pregnant and planning my birth, the birth I envisioned and hoped for fit that model without my knowing it.

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I came to be more interested in the concept when I joined a patient and family advisory council for maternal services for our local health region. I joined not because I want all moms to have my exact experience, but so they may each have the experience they desire and their choices respected.

There are various definitions of FCMC but the main gist is that it respects and takes into consideration the patients’ preferences and empowers patients to be responsible for their self-care. It also reduces the use of interventions that are unwanted, inappropriate, or not needed (more on this definition can be found here, though there are many others as well). Reducing the use of unnecessary interventions matters because interventions can directly affect breastfeeding.

It was fitting then when last fall I was contacted by a postpartum nurse/instructor who is also a PhD student focusing on obstetrical research. She wanted to speak to a woman about her birth experience to see how it fit into the FCMC model. I’m always happy to share my birth story, and I was even more excited because she wanted to make a video project. My only regret, if you can call it that, from our birth is I forgot to call our birth photographer we’d booked – baby just came too fast and it slipped our minds! My doula took some pictures, which were amazing, but of course not quite the same.

This nurse and I discussed how my birth fit into the principles of FCMC. Here they are in more detail:

  • Childbirth is seen as a wellness, not illness, and a normal life event.
  • Care is personalized to the individual needs of the family.
  • The hospital team assists the family in making informed choices for their care during pregnancy, labour, birth, postpartum, and newborn care, and strives to provide them with the experience they desire.
  • The father and/or other supportive persons of the mother’s choice are actively involved in the care.
  • Whenever the mother wishes, family and friends are encouraged to be present during the entire hospital stay including labour and birth.
  • A woman’s labour and birth care are provided in the same location unless a cesarean birth is necessary. Whenever possible, postpartum and newborn care are also given in the same location and by the same caregivers.
  • Mothers are encouraged to keep their babies in their rooms at all times, and nursing care focuses on teaching and role modelling while providing safe, quality care for the mom and baby together.
  • Parents have access to their high-risk newborns at all times and are included in the care of their infants to the extent possible given the newborn’s condition.

These don’t sound like outrageous expectations, but they are not the norm for every family when they go to give birth in a hospital, and that’s a shame.

Why does this matter? Because a mother’s birth experience has a direct effect on her postpartum experience. We already know we need to do more to improve postpartum care for moms. A good first step would be improving her birth experience as much as possible so she gets off to a good start and doesn’t have to add dealing with a traumatic birth on top of healing her body and taking care of a newborn.

Watch the video below to see the beautiful representation Darcie did of our birth and how it fits into family-centered maternity care. I’d love to hear how your experience fits into this model of care or how it could have been improved to better reflect it.

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