Midwives urged to avoid using proper words for anatomy to avoid upsetting trans patients

Midwives urged to avoid using proper words for anatomy to avoid upsetting trans patients

Midwives have been discouraged from saying ‘vagina’ when dealing with pregnant transgender patients if they dislike the terminology.

The guidance has been introduced by health chiefs in Sussex as part of their policy on perinatal care – previously known as maternity services – for transgender and non-binary people.

Last month it emerged that the same trust had begun a policy in which staff were told the phrase breast milk could be replaced with ‘human milk’, ‘breast/chest milk’ or ‘milk from the feeding mother or parent’.

In the care guide from Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust, midwives and obstetricians are told: ‘Some individuals may have preferred terminology for their anatomy.

Ambulances wait at Eastbourne District Hospital in East Sussex, where the new rules apply

These should be used wherever possible. For example, some people may talk about ‘front hole’ or ‘genital opening’ rather than ‘vagina’.’

Staff are encouraged to record these requested terms on a document called ‘My Language Preferences’.

It has a list of anatomical parts such as cervix, uterus and breasts alongside a column where the preferred words can be written.

The guidelines add that maternity care has typically been designed as a ‘women-only service’ which may not serve the needs of ‘trans’ and ‘non-binary’ individuals who identify as neither male or female.

Pregnant transgender patients should be treated according to their ‘self-identified gender’ rather than their birth sex, it says. They should be offered ‘pronoun stickers’ to wear advising staff how to address them.

Guidelines state maternity care has wrongly been 'women-only' until this point (file image)

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Guidelines state maternity care has wrongly been ‘women-only’ until this point (file image)

Last night a midwife at the trust revealed that a number of maternity staff are unhappy but fear speaking out.

The midwife, who asked to be anonymous, said: ‘It’s a policy that relates to very few people and they think in some ways it’s ridiculous but because of the climate at the hospital they dare not say anything.’

Kat Barber, founder of campaign group Sex Not Gender Nurses and Midwives, warned: ‘There can be a risk in using words that are not anatomically correct because these are ambiguous.’

Trust advises nurses say 'human milk' not 'breast milk' (Eastbourne District Hospital, Sussex)

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Trust advises nurses say ‘human milk’ not ‘breast milk’ (Eastbourne District Hospital, Sussex)

She said other larger groups may have greater needs, especially black women ‘who it is well established have very poor outcomes in labour’.

Emma Chambers, director of midwifery at the trust, said the guidance was ‘optional’ and offered ‘additional language that can be used only if the client requests alternative language’.

It did not ‘exclude the language of women or motherhood’, she added.

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