Representations of rituals and care in perinatal death in British midwifery textbooks 1937–2004

Joan Cameron, Julie Taylor, Alexandra Greene

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    13 Citations (Scopus)


    Objective: to assess the evolution of attitudes and practices relating to perinatal loss through an analysis of British midwifery textbooks. Design: a literature review of midwifery textbooks, written or edited by midwives, published in the UK after 1902, and a critical analysis of textbooks to determine the ideological and professional standpoints presented to readers. Findings: the rhetoric and ritual relating to perinatal loss as portrayed in British midwifery textbooks has changed, with the most dramatic changes taking place in the past 30 years. Evidence to support the changes is largely anecdotal, and little reference is made to research relating to perinatal death. The ‘dirty’ elements of perinatal death relating to the decay that takes place in the baby's body after death are not addressed. The critique of psychological theory relating to loss is absent, as are alternatives to the model proposed by Kübler Ross. Cultural aspects of loss and bereavement are rarely addressed. Key conclusions: the review of midwifery textbooks suggests that an ideological shift has taken place in relation to perinatal loss. The changing demographic trends, and the shift of birth and death from home to hospital, have altered the expectations and experiences of parents and professionals. Midwifery textbooks provide readers with a prescribed and formulaic approach to perinatal loss. Implications for practice: the absence of information relating to the appearance of the dead baby, together with the lack of clinical exposure, may mean that midwives are unable to provide parents with appropriate information. The lack of reference to an evidence base that may conflict with the ideology presented in the midwifery textbooks leaves readers with an incomplete understanding of the professional issues relating to perinatal loss.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)335-343
    Number of pages9
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - Sept 2008


    • Midwifery education
    • Perinatal loss
    • Ritual


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