How to involve parents in decision making during premature birth

Our researchers are analysing the conversations that take place between doctors and parents to find the best ways of involving parents in the decisions that are made during premature labour.
  • Researchers

    Dr Katie Gallagher, Dr Lisa Story

    Start date: October 2023
    End date: September 2026

Why do we need this research?

When a woman or birthing person goes into labour prematurely, midwives and obstetric doctors are usually the first clinicians to explain what is happening, often before consultation with neonatal doctors and nurses. We know that it is crucial that all conversations between medical staff and families are consistent in their messages, and our team have already carried out research that has improved communication between neonatal doctors and parents of babies on the neonatal unit. This research used a technique called conversation analysis, which investigates patterns and styles of communication to find out which are the most effective.

What are the aims of this project?

We now want to use conversation analysis to find out more about how neonatal and obstetric doctors involve parents in decision making during premature labour. This highly stressful situation can be made worse by the need to make urgent decisions under considerable time pressure. Depending on the circumstances, parents may have to decide whether they want the healthcare team to attempt full resuscitation of their baby after birth, or whether they should provide palliative care only. 
In this project, our researchers will record conversations – following parental and professional consent – that take place between doctors and parents during premature labour, where doctors are counselling parents on the effects that early birth is expected to have on the health of their baby. Our team will use conversation analysis to identify the different approaches to communication and find out which are most effective at allowing parents to express their preferences.

What difference will this project make?

This project will help to improve communication between doctors and families so that parents can be involved in decision making during premature labour. This could help to reduce the regret that parents sometimes feel about the decisions that were made at such a stressful time.