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A good sign for expectant mothers

  • Last modified date:
    26 April 2011
photo of Amanda Mitchell

Student midwife Amanda Mitchell says she has benefitted from the sign language course.

Childbirth can be overwhelming, and being unable to communicate with your doctor or midwife can add an extra level of stress to the experience.

‘I know of one mother who went into labour on a bank holiday, when no sign language interpreter was available,’ says Bernadette Gregory, Senior Lecturer in Midwifery at Leicester’s De Montfort University. ‘She was very distressed, because everyone was talking to her mother and her partner, rather than to her.’

In response to such problems, Bernadette has introduced a course for midwifery students, which gives them an overview of British Sign Language (BSL) and boosts their awareness of the needs of mothers with hearing impairments.

‘We don’t expect them to be able to sign much, but it’s so that they can communicate with parents during emergencies, or in the middle of the night when an interpreter isn’t available,’ she explains.

The voluntary course, made up of three four-hour sessions, covers antenatal care, labour and caring for a newborn. Student midwife Amanda Mitchell felt it was a valuable addition to the curriculum.

‘I’ve looked after a woman in the past who was a lip-reader, and when you were speaking to her you had to know that you needed to speak slowly and look at her,’ she says. ‘It’s not difficult, but it hadn’t been written on her handover notes. She’d met several different midwives and found it embarrassing to have to explain each time how she needed them to speak to her.

‘Another mother had to have an emergency caesarean and didn’t know what was happening, which was terrifying for her. We need the basics so that we can have that initial communication with parents.’

Student midwife Saesta Kasmani, whose mother is deaf, also took part in the course: ‘I’ve grown up with sign language, and it’s something I’ve always thought about. As a midwife, I’ve not yet come across any deaf women, but I know colleagues who have and the women have really appreciated that they made the effort to use a few signs. There are things you can do to make a bond with the mother while you’re arranging for an interpreter.’

The course is run in collaboration with Dr Joanna Downes at Action Deafness, a Leicester-based support service, and has so far trained 35 student midwives. According to Bernadette, the programme will benefit many more parents than those with hearing difficulties.

‘Leicester is a multicultural, diverse city, and there are lots of patients for whom English isn’t their first language,’ she points out. ‘Having to be aware of body language, or alternative forms of communication, helps in other areas too.’

Equality for all

Introduced in October 2010, the Equality Act outlines discrimination and underpins the way the NHS provides its services and supports its staff. By eliminating prejudice and discrimination, the NHS can deliver services that are personal, fair and diverse, and a society that is healthier and happier.

From 6 April 2011, the Act includes a new public sector equality duty. This brings the three separate duties on public authorities relating to race, disability and gender equality together into a single duty. It also extends it to cover age, sexual orientation, religion or belief, pregnancy and maternity, and gender reassignment.

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