Hesperian Health Guides

Respectful and compassionate care

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HealthWiki > A Book for Midwives > Chapter 1: Word to Midwives > Respectful and compassionate care

a health worker speaking to a pregnant woman, who then thinks.
I worried about you when you did not come last month. Was something wrong?
I'm glad she is not yelling at me. Now I can explain that I missed my checkup because my other child was sick.

Everyone deserves to be treated with respect. As a health worker, the way you treat a woman is particularly important. Midwives are often trusted authorities. A kind or encouraging word from you can go a long way in giving a woman confidence in her ability to care for herself. An unthinking or cruel remark can cause hurt that lasts many years in a woman.

Do not judge

Some women are used to being treated disrespectfully. When you begin to work with a woman who is often treated with disrespect because of her age, the work she does, her ethnicity or religion, how much money she has, having a disability, or for other reasons, she may expect you to treat her badly as well. You can only overcome this fear by showing her that you are there to listen and help her — not to judge or criticize.

Follow your own advice

People are more influenced by what you do than what you say. And because midwives are respected by their communities, the things you do may encourage others to care for themselves. If you breastfeed your children, other women in the community may be more likely to breastfeed. If you do not smoke, other women may follow your example and not smoke, or may stop smoking. Live your own life as you would advise others to do.

 a woman leading 2 pregnant women across a bridge labeled "Skills and Knowledge" toward a sign pointing to "Better Life."
Help people help themselves

Everyone has the right to decide what happens to her own body. And people can and should take the lead in their own care. In this way, they can become actively responsible for their own health and the health of their communities.

Listen more than you talk

A woman often needs someone who will listen to her without judgment. And as she talks, she may find that she has some of the answers to her problems.

Talk openly about difficult subjects

Some women feel shy, ashamed, confused, or private about their problems. This is especially common with family problems and sex. A midwife who talks honestly and openly about these subjects will discover that many women share the same problems. By speaking directly and comfortably to women about their families, sexuality, and sexual health, you will help women feel less alone, and you may help them solve problems that have a large effect on their health.

Keep things private (confidential)

Never tell anyone about someone else’s health or care — unless the person says it is OK. And when you talk to women about their health, do it in a private place where others cannot hear.

2 women speaking to each other.
I will never tell anyone what you've shared with me.
Thank you. It's a relief to be able to speak freely.
A midwife must keep what she
knows about a woman private.

In particular, respect a woman’s privacy about subjects that may be sensitive to her, such as sexually transmitted infections, miscarriages and abortions, and family problems. You should never share this type of information without a woman’s permission.

There is only one time when it is OK to share information about someone’s health: if another health worker is caring for the woman during an emergency, the health worker will need to know the woman’s health history in order to provide safe and effective care.

This page was updated:11 Sep 2019