Understanding and improving the communication of risk relating to pregnancy

About the project

The WRISK project is a collaboration between the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) and Heather Trickey at the School of Social Sciences at Cardiff University. Working with stakeholders from a wide range of disciplines, the project draws on women’s experiences to understand and improve the development and communication of risk messages in pregnancy. The project is funded by the Wellcome Trust.

Women who are planning a pregnancy or who are pregnant receive many public health messages that are intended to guide their decision making. For example, they receive advice about what to eat, drink, how much they should weigh, and what medications they should or shouldn’t take. These messages are intended to improve outcomes for babies and mothers. However, there is growing concern that messages do not always fully reflect or explain the evidence base underpinning them, and that negotiating the risk landscape can sometimes feel confusing, overwhelming, and disempowering. This may negatively affect women’s experiences of pregnancy and motherhood, and be exacerbated by a wider culture of parenting that tends to blame mothers for all less-than-ideal outcomes in their children.

The WRISK project will be conducted over two years from November 2018 to June 2021. The project takes a woman-centred approach – starting with an exploration of women’s experiences of risk messaging. Women’s voices will be gathered and collated through public involvement and qualitative methodologies. Lessons drawn from women’s experiences will be considered by a group of stakeholders. Stakeholders include scientists, public health and risk communication specialists, women’s advocacy groups, and specialists in women’s sexual and reproductive health. This work will lead to the development of recommendations for respectful risk communication in pregnancy.

“The WRISK project is taking an important step forward in seeking to develop recommendations that re-align public health messages for pregnancy with women’s needs and lived experiences. This can only result in more effective information that supports both principles of maternal autonomy and public health objectives.”

Dame Cathy Warwick, former Chief Executive of the Royal College of Midwives and Chair of WRISK Oversight Committee

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