Women who are pregnant or who are planning a pregnancy receive a lot of advice about what to eat, drink, how much they should weigh, how to exercise, how to bond with their baby, about mental health, and about what medications they should or shouldn’t take, amongst a wealth of other things.
This advice is designed to improve outcomes for babies and mothers, which is of course what all of us want. Sometimes these messages may be empowering, and at other times they may feel overwhelming and cause anxiety, particularly if women have no means to act on them. There is concern that the evidence base underpinning messages is not always clear – and that the precautionary principle (clear do’s and don’ts) may be what some women want but may not give others detailed enough information to make their own informed choices. The WRISK project aims to develop woman-centred and co-produced, cross-sector recommendations to improve women’s experiences of risk communication in pregnancy and to contribute to public health.
Public health messages are designed to help us protect our pregnancies from all possible harm; but we also need to ensure women themselves aren’t put at risk of harm in the process. Women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy sometimes find they are denied medications by their GP, like anti-depressants, or worry about whether they may be harming their pregnancies if they continue to take them, even under medical advice. Women still suffer with extreme pregnancy sickness (Hyperemesis Gravidarum) because they can’t access the treatment they need, or think they should wait until they are absolutely desperate before taking the medications they are prescribed. The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas) has seen the fallout of risk messaging that isn’t evidence based and doesn’t meet women’s needs: they see women who end up terminating wanted pregnancies because they couldn’t get the treatment they need for pregnancy sickness and simply could not “survive another day”.
Women can die when we do not get discussions about risk right. The last Confidential Inquiry into Maternal Deaths found women who died after being taken off anti-depressants or where essential treatment for blood clots was delayed because of fears it could interfere with breastfeeding.
WRISK is launching a survey which is open to all women who have been pregnant in the last five years regardless of their experiences of pregnancy or how a pregnancy may have ended. The survey asks about risk-related topics, how women feel about advice they have received, and any areas that could do with greater attention or better communication. We are particularly interested in hearing from women whose voices are often not heard- this may include BAME women, women in receipt of welfare benefits, and both younger and older women.
The survey forms part of our research into women’s experiences, together with findings from interviews and focus groups, talking to women from a range of backgrounds. Based on these experiences, an expert panel made up of public health specialists, voluntary support organisations, scientists, social scientists, health professionals, and women’s rights advocates will co-produce recommendations to improve the way that risks are communicated.
We need you to help us with this project – and would be grateful if you would fill in our survey to share your experiences and thoughts with us, and help us get the conversation going!