Kindness as one dictionary defines is, ‘going out of your way to be nice to someone or to show a person you care.’ Other definitions say kindness embodies generosity, selflessness and love.

Compassion one dictionary states is, ‘caring more about the thoughts and feelings of others than your own,‘ another definition says compassion is, ‘a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune.’

Kindness and compassion are words we hear a lot about when discussing care given to families in birth, but are these truly reflected the care given and the services provided? The truth is kindness and compassion are just as important as the medical care provided, the equipment used, the policies put in place and the safety of mothers and babies.

Poor care that is devoid of kindness and compassion, can leave families feeling vulnerable sometimes even traumatic. The effects can be long lasting and life changing.

While of course it matters the medical care given, without it being enveloped in kindness and compassion it can unknowingly cause harm and heartache to those being cared for. Simple acts of kindness and showing compassion in dealing with families and as staff, each other, can go along way in making very difficult and sometimes traumatic situations easier to bear.

So how can kindness and compassion be kept at the centre of care? What can individuals and services do to keep kindness and compassion firmly in focus?

Families put their trust in healthcare professionals to help them when they are at their most vulnerable, sometimes even placing their very lives in their hands, this is true in birth also. They rely on them to not only to give good accurate evidence based information, medical care that will keep them and their baby safe, but also that protects them from harm not only physically, but emotionally.

But with the pressures of the modern healthcare system it is easy to lose sight of the simple things, the language used and the things that make a hospital stay easier. Forgotten sometimes are the kind words and the ‘feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for someone who is stricken by misfortune’. Hospital in particular can be a scary place. Away from home, without loved ones around, often in pain or worried about what will happen women during birth look to those there to care for them for reassurance and comfort.

Do families come first?

To reduce birth trauma everyone must work together to build services that have kindness and compassion at its core. It is important that kindness and compassion are the focus of care given in maternity services. This is done in two ways, the culture of maternity units and the personal, inner, values of those that work in maternity services.

Does the culture of our maternity units allow for kindness and compassion, does it nurture and grow them?
Kindness and compassion requires working as a team, all supporting and trusting each other?
Does the culture show that women, babies and families come first?
Does language used reflect that staff care, that they have time for, and want to listen to families and that their thoughts, needs and opinions matter?

Do our maternity units allow for families to feedback their needs and thoughts, are these valued and appreciated or just token listened to? Is the culture flexible to meet the needs of more complex needs, if a woman or her partner is blind or disabled, or needs help to communicate due to language needs or learning difficulties? Or maybe mental health issues mean a woman needs extra support and understanding.

Is the culture of our maternity units based on policy, data, paperwork and procedures. Is the culture target driven and what’s best for the staff, not women and babies? Does the culture dictate the care given, unyielding to the needs of those who need it? Do women feel like they are a burden, bothering staff or too afraid to ask for help? This can be hard with so many demands and lack of resources, it can feel overwhelming, maybe impossible, to give care that is not only medically good but shows genuine kindness and compassion too. However it matters because when kindness and compassion are lacking it profoundly affects the experience of birth for the woman and her partner.

To encourage a culture that is focused on kindness and compassion means staff need support. Good communication, praise and feeling valued are vital. Good management is also important. Allowing staff to grow, treating them with respect and making them feel appreciated will help keep the culture in a maternity unit healthy. It’s important too that staff are listened to. Winning minds and hearts of staff starts with an approachable management. Feeling that issues can be raised, ideas can be shared and they have an active role to play in improving services encourages staff and makes hearts swell with pride. Often when managers listen to their staff they will know what the service needs, what families need and how care can be given in a productive but kind and compassionate way. When a culture flourishes, staff will flourish as will the care they given to families.

Inner Values

The second important link for showing kindness and compassion is an individuals own inner values.

If you care for women during pregnancy and birth ask yourself;

  • Do I see labels or people?
  • Do I take responsibility for my own actions or do I blame the culture?
  • Am I showing kindness with others I work with and families I care for?
  • Do my actions show that compassion is my focus?
  • How do I view woman under my care, are they a privilege or a burden?
  • Does the way I manage or treat work colleagues set an example in kindness?
  • Am I critical and indifferent to the needs of others?
  • What does my language communicate to those I care for?
  • Am I approachable, friendly and adaptable?
  • These can be hard questions to face. But it is important to look at inner values.

When everyone maintains their own inner values, if they remember they are accountable for the care they give women. If they keep families at the centre and do everything they can to make care given focused on kindness and compassion, if they speak up when they see something is wrong and do all they can to be an example of kindness and compassion then not only do they build a better culture but also safeguard the emotional wellbeing of those they care for.

Thinking about how they would feel in that person’s shoes, or thinking about what they would want for their family member needing care can help to keep inner values on track.

Inner values and a healthy culture go together.

“Be kind – your time may be restricted but your kindness is not” –Felicity

Why do kindness and compassion matter?

Because the way women, babies and their families are cared for in birth can profoundly affect their lives. Woman over and over again tell us that kindness and compassion matters to them. It may only be small things, saying Hello on a reception desk, holding a woman’s hand while she undergoes a test, sitting talking with a mother sat by her babies incubator, fetching a cup of tea for a new father waiting for his loved one to come out of surgery or sometimes just offering a little reassurance and help. These small acts can mean so much to a family especially if they are worried, scared and feeling overwhelmed. It may never be known the effect of kindness shown, but to that family they will remember it for a lifetime.

Especially at difficult times does this really matter. If birth becomes an emergency situation, or a baby is born early or sick. If a family lose their precious baby or a woman is seriously ill then the kindness and compassion shown to them can make the difference as to how they cope at such a difficult time.

Thankfully there are many working hard to show real kindness and compassion everyday in our maternity units, both in small ways and in making large scale changes. By working closely with families, listening and sharing ideas it enables the improving of services to reflect not only good evidence based care, but kindness and compassion especially at such a vulnerable time as birth. Medically the care given women and babies matters, sometimes it saves lives, however kindness and compassion matter too. When we do it improves the culture of our maternity units, improves care given during birth and after, it helps staff feel appreciated and valued, and women feel cared for and safe. It means feedback for services that builds a good reputation and gives staff praise for all their hard work and inner joy at making a difference.

Unfold Your Wings believes that if we all work together we can make sure our maternity services are overflowing in kindness and compassion both for families and staff too.

Yes, kindness and compassion matters to us all.

Why Kindness and Compassion in Birth Matters