Ethnographic study of the use of interventions during the second stage of labor in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

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BackgroundRoutine use of medical interventions during labor has been identified as a clinical area for concern, since such routinized practice is not consistent with an evidence-based approach to care and continues to increase despite efforts to encourage normal childbirth. Therefore, the aim of our study was to explore maternity health professionals’ use of interventions during the second stage of labor in two hospitals in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to understand what influences their decision-making and practices.MethodsThis was an exploratory study using an ethnographic approach. Data collection methods included participant observations of 19 labors and births (n = 8 at City Hospital and n = 11 at King's Hospital) and semi-structured interviews with 29 health care professionals. In addition, the hospital labor and delivery ward policies and guidelines from those hospitals were collected. Data were analyzed thematically.ResultsMedical interventions were used during the second stage of labor routinely, regardless of clinical indication. Three core influences that shaped the clinical decision-making were identified as follows: (a) organizational culture, (b) a medical concept of birth, and (c) a hierarchical system of control. We suggest that the clinical decision-making and routine practice in this setting arises out of the interface between these three core influences whereby hierarchical control and clinicians’ exercise of power and feelings of powerlessness are fundamental drivers for an organizational culture of medicalized childbirth, despite the differing models of childbirth which professionals described.ConclusionsClinical decisions relating to the use of interventions during childbirth are both complex and socially negotiated. The findings reflect the complexity of the use of interventions during the second stage of labor and the multiple influences on professionals’ practices. We have shown how three key influences interact to shape clinical decision-making during the second stage of labor in this cultural setting and how the use of medical interventions can be analyzed as an illustration of the power dynamic in the maternity health care system. We suggest that written policies are insufficient to bring about evidence-based practice and approaches to change need to take into account these different levels of influence.

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