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SOGC Statement on Respectful Birth

The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC) advocates on behalf of women to receive quality of care throughout their sexual and reproductive life, including the right to have a safe and respectful birth experience. 

There are more than 380,000 births in Canada each year. In the vast majority of cases, obstetricians, nurses, family physicians, midwives and doulas are extraordinarily caring professionals who are mindful of the particular vulnerability of women during and after labour, and are deeply sensitive and caring to the needs of the women in their care. There are, however, instances when women either were not properly listened to, or felt this to have been the case. In response to recent media reports, the SOGC feels it is timely to remind women of their rights related to labour and delivery and to remind health care providers of the importance of appropriate and caring behaviour during labour and delivery. 

Respectful Maternity Care has been addressed by the World Health Organization (WHO). In a 2015 statement the WHO calls for “greater action, dialogue, research and advocacy on this important public health and human rights issue.” This report identifies seven types of abuse including: physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal abuse, stigma and discrimination, failure to meet professional standards of care and poor rapport between women and providers. 

The consequences of inappropriate care are long-lasting, and women who report disrespectful care are less likely to seek health care in future. 

We are confident that all health care facilities strive to ensure that the basic rights of women in childbirth are assured. Standards for professional communication are available through most provincial and territorial licensing and regulatory bodies. Best practice in care is outlined in SOGC Clinical Practice Guidelines. Specific training in intrapartum communication is available through the MOREOB Program chapters and skills drills. 

Care may be perceived differently depending upon the circumstances and context in care. Health care providers should be sensitive to those circumstances, and attempt to address any perceived shortcomings in care as promptly as possible. We also urge women who feel their basic human rights have been violated during these important life-events, to take action by talking to their health care provider, the hospital ombudsman, patient representative, or their local provincial or territorial college. 

There is no moment more important, and none that is more indelibly inscribed than childbirth. Relationships of mutual trust and respect help to ensure the best possible outcomes.