Research has shed new light on the high levels of stress and burnout among midwives.
A PhD study by Dr Lynette Walpole showed high levels of stress across birthing suite midwives at two Melbourne hospitals and found major causes were insufficient preparation and support.
The study involved 32 delivery-suite midwives who kept a diary of events over six months, recording stress levels related to particular events after every shift.
"What underpinned much of the stress was their sense of loss of control," Dr Walpole said. "They did not feel prepared and supported enough to control their response and performance no matter what situation arose."
Poor staff-to-patient ratios and the wrong mix of skill and experience levels on shift were compounding these fears of not performing, and in turn stress levels, she said.
High levels of stress were also reported around bereavement care, where midwives take on a one-to-one caring role for mothers electing to have a mid-trimester termination or who have lost a child in utero.
"While always a difficult situation, midwives felt they did not receive enough training in the procedures around bereavement care or guidance on how to provide a professional response in supporting someone else through it," she said.
Support from their direct supervisors and immediate debriefings around these events were also highlighted as crucially important areas for the psychological health of midwives.
"This research is about getting to the essence of what causes such high levels of stress and burnout among midwives because so little is known about the problem, let alone the solution," Dr Walpole said.
She said a starting point for resolving these issues was to create some predictability around caring for mid-trimester terminations by giving midwives more understanding of the procedures. She also suggested updating training to reflect the stressful workplace challenges identified, such as incorporating management and leadership skills into ongoing professional development.
Dr Walpole is a psychology lecturer with 25 years experience as a midwife. Her thesis supervisor was Professor Gerard Kennedy.
Available for interview
Dr Lynette Walpole, Psychology lecturer/PhD graduate
College of Arts, Victoria University
(03) 9919 5660; 0417 500 409; [email protected]
Michael Quin, Research writer
Public Affairs Department, Victoria University
(03) 9919 9491; 0431 815 409; [email protected]