Towards a conceptualisation of woman centred care — A global review of professional standards


      • This article reviewed midwifery professional documents revealing a limited reference to woman centred care.
      • Due to the lack of a uniform definition, the concept, at this time, remains widely interpreted.
      • Despite midwifery practice being woman centred, a definition of the concept has limited attention within the peer-reviewed evidence.
      • Woman centred care is mostly referred to through an operational lens, and at this time, there is no clear universally accepted definition.
      • However, it is purported that woman centred care underpins midwifery philosophy.



      Woman centred care is purported to underpin Midwifery philosophy. However, the evidence and focus of this concept within midwifery professional standards has yet to be verified. Further to this, woman centred care is, at this time, mostly depicted as a way of assisting, supporting and interacting with a woman and her family. It is however, without a substantive universally accepted definition.


      This study aimed to review midwifery standards documents. An organised and targeted methodology was conducted to identify the approaches to woman centred care that currently underpin midwifery governance.


      A comprehensive and specific search for ‘woman centred care’ was conducted across a global collection of midwifery standards. A professional document was included if it represented either or all of the underpinnings of midwifery education, contained statements related to standards of practice, overall governance or any equivalence. Individual documents were initially searched for the words ‘woman centred care’, followed by ‘women centred care’, ‘patient/person centred care’ and ‘client centred care’.


      An extensive review of 142 documents was undertaken. These included: thirty independent nations, thirty represented by the European Midwives Association and a further twenty-one identified through the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM). The World Health Organisation (WHO), yielded midwifery information from a further sixty-one nations. The phrase ‘woman centred care’ was located within 3.5% of the documents reviewed. Overall, five examples were found that directly referred to the actual phrase ‘woman centred care’ and one to the use of ‘person centred care’. Therefore, it was established, that at the time of this review, there was limited formal depiction of the concept of woman centred care.


      To read this article in full you will need to make a payment

      Purchase one-time access:

      Academic & Personal: 24 hour online accessCorporate R&D Professionals: 24 hour online access
      One-time access price info
      • For academic or personal research use, select 'Academic and Personal'
      • For corporate R&D use, select 'Corporate R&D Professionals'


      Subscribe to Women and Birth
      Already a print subscriber? Claim online access
      Already an online subscriber? Sign in
      Institutional Access: Sign in to ScienceDirect


        • Vann Sprecher T.
        • Karras R.
        The midwife and the church: ecclesiastical regulation of midwives in Brie, 1499–1504.
        Bull. Hist. Med. 2011; 85: 171-192
        • Abel-Smith B.
        A History of the Nursing Profession.
        Heinemann, London1960
        • Davies C.
        Rewriting Nursing History.
        1st ed. Antony Rowe Ltd, Chippenham Great Britain1980
        • Carolam M.
        • Hodnett E.
        ‘With woman’ philosophy: examining the evidence, answering the questions.
        Nurs. Inq. 2007; 14: 140-152
      1. The Online Etymological Dictionary Archived.
        Online Etymology Dictionary, 2017
        • Leap N.
        Woman-centred or women-centred care: does it matter?.
        Br. J. Midwifery. 2009; 17: 12-16
        • Bradfield Z.
        • Kelly M.
        • Hauck Y.
        • Duggan R.
        Midwives ‘with woman’ in the private obstetric model: where divergent philosophies meet.
        Women Birth. 2019; 32: 157-167
      2. Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia. Midwifery Standards for Practice Australia 2018 [Available from:].

      3. Royal College of Midwives. High Quality Midwifery Care London 2018 [Available from:].

        • McCance T.V.
        • McCormack B.
        • Dewing J.
        An exploration of person-centredness in practice.
        Online J. Issues Nurs. 2011; 16
        • Fontein-Kuipers Y.
        • Romeijn E.
        • Zwijnenberg A.
        • Eekhof W.
        • van Staa A.L.
        ‘I SeeYou’: a woman-centred care education and research project in Dutch bachelor midwifery education.
        Health Educ. J. 2018; 77: 899-914
        • Maputle M.
        • Donavon C.
        Woman-centred care in childbirth: a concept analysis (part 1).
        Curationis. 2013; 36: 1-8
        • Pope R.
        • Graham L.
        • Patel S.
        Woman-centred care.
        Int. J. Nurs. Stud. 2001; 38: 227-238
        • Phiri J.
        • Dietsch E.
        • Bonner A.
        Cultural safety and its importance for Australian midwifery practice.
        Collegian. 2010; 17: 105-111
        • Hunter A.
        • Devane D.
        • Houghton C.
        • Grealish A.
        • Tully A.
        • Smith V.
        Woman-centred care during pregnancy and birth in Ireland: thematic analysis of women’s and clinicians’ experiences.
        BMC Pregnancy Childbirth. 2017; 17: 1-11
        • Brady S.
        • Lee N.
        • Gibbons K.
        • Bogossian F.
        Woman-centred care: an integrative review of the empirical literature.
        Int. J. Nurs. Stud. 2019; 94: 107-119
      4. House of Commons. Winterton Report London The Stationery Office Limited; 1992 [cited Available from:].

      5. International Confederation of Midwives. Global Standards for Midwifery Regulation 2011 [Available from:].

        • Nursing and Midwifery Council
        Nursing and Midwifery Council Realising Professionalism: Standards for Education and Training Part 3: Standards for Pre-registration Midwifery Programmes. 2019: 1-23 (United Kingdom)
      6. Australian Government Department of Health. Pregnancy Care Guidelines - Providing Woman-Centred Care 2020 [cited 2020. Available from:].

        • Morgan L.
        Conceptualizing woman-centred care in midwifery.
        Can. J. Midwifery Res. Pract. 2015; 14: 8-15
        • Page L.
        Health Do Changing Childbirth: A Renewal of the Maternity Services. British Journal of Midwifery, 1993 (p. 157)
        • Brady S.
        • Bogossian F.
        • Gibbons K.
        Development and piloting the Woman Centred Care Scale (WCCS).
        Women Birth. 2017; 30: 220-226
        • Berg M.
        • Olafsdottir O.A.
        • Lundgren I.
        A midwifery model of woman-centred childbirth care — in Swedish and Icelandic settings.
        Sex. Reprod. Healthc. 2012; 3: 79-87
        • Tierney O.
        • Sweet L.
        • Houston D.
        • Ebert L.
        A historical account of the governance of midwifery education in Australia and the evolution of the Continuity of Care Experience.
        Women Birth. 2018; 31: 210-215
        • Kuliukas L.
        • Bradfield Z.
        • Costins P.
        • Duggan R.
        • Burns V.
        • Hauck Y.
        • et al.
        Midwifery students’: developing an understanding of being’ with woman’––a qualitative study.
        Midwifery. 2020; 84
        • Browne J.
        • Haora P.J.
        • Taylor J.
        • Davis D.L.
        ‘Continuity of care’ experiences in midwifery education: perspectives from diverse stakeholders.
        Nurse Educ. Pract. 2014; 14: 573-578
        • Brady S.
        • Bogossian F.
        • Gibbons K.
        • Wells A.
        • Lyon P.
        • Bonney D.
        • et al.
        A protocol for evaluating progressive levels of simulation fidelity in the development of technical skills, integrated performance and woman centred clinical assessment skills in undergraduate midwifery students.
        BMC Med. Educ. 2013; 1372
        • Bradfield Z.
        • Hauck Y.
        • Kelly M.
        • Duggan R.
        “It’s what midwifery is all about”: Western Australian midwives’ experiences of being ‘with woman’ during labour and birth in the known midwife model.
        BMC Pregnancy Childbirth. 2019; 19: 29
      7. Adrian A. Primary health care in Australia 2009 [cited Australian Nursing Federation Available from:∼phc-australia].

        • Bowen G.A.
        Document analysis as a qualitative research method.
        Qual. Res. J. 2009; 9: 27-40
        • Yin R.
        Qualitative Research From Start to Finish.
        2nd ed. The Guilford Press, New York2016
        • Labuschagne A.
        Qualitative reseach — airy fairy or fundamental.
        Qual. Rep. 2003; 8: 100-103
      8. International Confederation of Midwives. International Confederation of Midwives (ICM). The philosophy and model of midwifery care 2014 [Available from:].

        • Watkins P.
        Mental Health Nursing: The Art of Compassionate Care.
        2nd ed. Elsevier Health Sciences, United Kingdom2001
        • Homer C.
        • Passant L.
        • Kildea S.
        • Pincombe J.
        • Thorogood C.
        • Leap N.
        • et al.
        The development of national competency standards for the midwife in Australia.
        Midwifery. 2007; 23: 350-360
        • Yanti Y.
        • Claramita M.
        • Emilia O.
        • Hakimi M.
        Students’ understanding of’ Women-Centred Care Philosophy’ in midwifery care through Continuity of Care (CoC) learning model: a quasi-experimental study.
        BMC Nurs. 2015; 14: 1-7
        • Arundell F.
        • Mannix J.
        • Sheehan A.
        • Peters K.
        Workplace culture and the practice experience of midwifery students: a meta-synthesis.
        J. Nurs. Manag. 2018; 26: 302-313