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BMJ Open. 2017 Jul 13;7(7):e016351. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2017-016351.

Sociodemographic differences in women's experience of early labour care: a mixed methods study.

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Nuffield Department of Population Health, Policy Research Unit in Maternal Health and Care, National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.



To explore women's experiences of early labour care focusing on sociodemographic differences, and to examine the effect of antenatal education, using mixed methods.


England, 2014.


Women who completed postal questionnaires about their experience of maternity care, including questions about antenatal education, early labour and sociodemographic factors, included space for free-text comments.


Worries about labour, contact with midwives in early labour and subsequent care.


This study was based on secondary analysis of a national maternity survey carried out in England in 2014. Quantitative data were analysed using descriptive statistics and binary logistic regression; qualitative data were analysed using a thematic content analytic approach.


Completed questionnaires were received from 4578 women (47% response rate). There were significant differences by sociodemographic factors, particularly ethnicity, in women's worries about early labour. Compared with white women, women from black or minority ethnic groups had an adjusted OR of 1.93 (95% CI 1.56 to 2.39) of feeling worried about not knowing when labour would start. Among women who contacted a midwife at the start of labour, 84% perceived their advice as appropriate, more in older and multiparous women. Overall, 64% of women were asked to come to the hospital at this time, more in multiparous women (adjusted OR 1.63, 95% CI 1.35 to 1.96). Those who did not have access to antenatal education experienced greater worry about early labour. Five themes emerged from the qualitative analysis: 'Differentiating between early and active labour', 'Staff attitudes', 'Not being allowed…', 'Previous labours' and 'Perceived consequences for women'.


These findings reinforce the importance of providing reassurance to women in early labour, taking care that women do not feel neglected or dismissed. In particular, primiparous and ethnic minority women reported greater worry about early labour and require additional reassurance.


epidemiology; maternal medicine; obsteritics

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