Improving maternal outcomes for women with disabilities

Researchers from the Judith Lumley Centre have explored women’s views about identifying their disability status during maternity care

Women with disabilities experience an increased risk of coexisting health conditions during pregnancy and poorer maternal and infant outcomes, compared to those without a disability.

Researchers from the Judith Lumley Centre and the Women’s are working with maternity services to better support this cohort, starting with improved identification processes.

“Around 9% of Australian women of childbearing age have a disability,” explains Charlie Smithson. “But information on disability status is not routinely collected when women access maternity services. There is also little understanding about how women feel when asked about their disability in this context.”

Smithson and her team have explored women’s views about identifying their disability status during maternity care. Patients from the Women’s participated in the study.

“We asked women if their disability status was raised during their maternity care, and their views on being asked about this,” explains Smithson.

The researchers discovered that most were not asked at all. Of the women who self-identified with a disability, 53% were not specifically asked about their disability status during their care.

“The majority of women, regardless of whether or not they had a disability, reported feeling very comfortable about being asked about their disability status,” says Smithson. “Further, they strongly supported being asked routinely and directly about their disability status.”

The research team will now embark on further studies to understand, and improve, the disability identification processes on a national level.

“In Australia, the National Perinatal Data Collection reports population-based, cross-sectional data on all births,” says Smithson. “Currently, disability status is not included in the list of mandatory reporting items.”

“Our aim is to have disability status routinely reported to understand the prevalence and perinatal outcomes of women with a disability at a national level.”

Learn more about the Academic and Research Collaborative in Health (ARCH).