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Training midwives to tackle domestic violence

midwifery researcher
Photo: Midwifery researcher Dr Kathleen Baird
New research could pave the way for Australian midwives to receive training to address domestic violence in pregnancy.

Statistics show 30 per cent of domestic violence incidents occur when women are pregnant, while domestic violence is also a prime cause of miscarriage or stillbirth.

Queensland researcher and registered midwife Dr Kathleen Baird said it’s time midwives were trained to ask pregnant women about domestic violence and to provide assistance to those suffering abuse.

“In Australia at the moment, one woman a week is murdered by a current or ex-partner so that in itself is quite an awful statistic to have,” she said.
“Nearly 65 per cent of all physical assaults against women are committed in the home so when we have a case of pregnancy, not only do we have a woman’s life at risk but we also have an unborn baby’s life at risk.

“We know that for 30 per cent of all women, their first incidence of domestic violence will occur during pregnancy, and if domestic violence is already occurring in a relationship it is known to escalate in pregnancy.”

A senior midwifery lecturer at Griffith University, Dr Baird said midwives have a unique relationship with women and are often in an ideal position to be able to provide women with appropriate support services.

“Especially if we have midwives that are giving continuity of care, they build up a close relationship with women, and we also know if women are in a violent relationship being pregnant might be the catalyst that they stop and evaluate where they want to go within that relationship,” she said.

“Because we know that women find it very, very difficult to open up about domestic violence, if we don’t ask the question, women will not tell us.

“By asking the question, we are actually saying - it’s okay to talk about this.”

Dr Baird is researching Australian midwives’ knowledge of domestic violence and skills in assisting pregnant women at risk.

As part of her research, she surveyed 156 midwives last year and conducted 28 telephone interviews with midwives from across Australia.

Dr Baird said the survey revealed midwives are not receiving training on a routine basis when it comes to tackling domestic violence in pregnancy.

“What the midwives responded with in their survey and in their telephone interviews was that they actually weren’t getting any training or education around this area and didn’t feel confident about asking the question,” she said.

“Consequently, I think when midwives are being asked to do that without that education and training program, they’re probably not doing it very well…they don’t have the confidence that comes from a robust education program.”

Dr Baird’s previous research into domestic violence in pregnancy in the United Kingdom led to the introduction of an education program that has since equipped midwives with training around domestic violence, and resulted in a seven-fold increase in the reporting rates of domestic violence cases.

“That study showed that if you give the education and training to midwives they feel their knowledge increases, there’s a change in attitude and their confidence increases, so therefore they are more confident about asking women and therefore they feel more empowered to do that,” she said.

“Our follow up study in 2010 showed midwives maintained their knowledge and confidence.

“Also, they very much saw their role as asking the question, responding appropriately and supporting a woman with a positive disclosure but also having the tools to be able to refer that woman and her family on to community organisations to support her to make a decision around what she felt was right for her.”

Dr Baird, who is speaking on the topic at the Gold Coast Health and Medical Research Conference tomorrow, is applying for funding in a bid to roll out a national training program for Australian midwives, which will work alongside women’s support agencies.

She also hopes the program could be expanded to include more health professionals.

“I think that health deals with the consequences of domestic violence and maybe now it’s time to be more proactive around dealing with domestic violence and trying to offer support for women.”

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Karen Keast

Karen Keast is a freelance health journalist who writes news and feature articles for HealthTimes.

Karen regularly writes for some of Australia’s leading health news websites and magazines.  In a media career spanning 20 years, Karen has worked as a senior journalist in newspapers and television. She has covered the grind of daily news and worked as a politics reporter at countless state and federal elections.

Since venturing into freelance writing five years ago, Karen has found her niche in writing about the health sector for editors, businesses and corporations.

Karen has interviewed the heads of peak health organisations in Australia and overseas, and written hundreds of news and feature articles covering the dedicated work of health professionals who tread the corridors of hospitals and health services, universities, aged care facilities and practices, day in and day out.

Follow Karen Keast on Twitter @stylemywords