Background: A care bundle to reduce severe perineal trauma (the bundle) was introduced in 28 Australian maternity hospitals in 2018. The bundle includes five components of which only one – warm perineal compresses – has highest level evidence. There is scant published research about the impact of implementation of perineal bundles. Question: How does a perineal care bundle impact midwifery practice in Australian maternity hospitals?
Methods: Purposively sampled midwives who worked in hospitals where the bundle had been implemented. Interested midwives were recruited to participate in one-to-one, semi-structured interviews. The researchers conducted critical, reflexive thematic analysis informed by Foucauldian concepts of power.
Findings: We interviewed 12 midwives from five hospitals in one state of Australia. Participants varied by age, clinical role, experience, and education. Three themes were generated: 1) bundle design and implementation 2) changing midwifery practice: obedience, subversion, and compliance; and 3) obstetric dominance and midwifery submission.
Discussion: The bundle exemplifies tensions between obstetric and midwifery constructs of safety in normal birth. Participants’ responses appear consistent with oppressed group behaviour previously reported in nurses and midwives. Women expect midwives to facilitate maternal autonomy yet decision-making in maternity care is commonly geared towards obtaining consent. In our study midwives encouraged women to consent or decline depending on their personal preferences.
Conclusion: The introduction of the perineal bundle acts as an exemplar of obstetric dominance in Australian maternity care. We recommend midwives advocate autonomy – women's and their own – by using clinical judgement, evidence, and woman-centred care.