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Open Access Research article

Alcohol brief interventions in Scottish antenatal care: a qualitative study of midwives’ attitudes and practices

Lawrence Doi1*, Helen Cheyne2 and Ruth Jepson1

Author Affiliations

1 Scottish Collaboration for Public Health Research and Policy, Centre for Population Health Sciences, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, UK

2 Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Health Professionals Research Unit, University of Stirling, Scotland, UK

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BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 2014, 14:170  doi:10.1186/1471-2393-14-170

Published: 21 May 2014

Abstract

Background

Infants exposed to alcohol in the womb are at increased risk of experiencing health problems. However, mixed messages about the consequences of prenatal alcohol consumption have resulted in inconsistent attitudes and practices amongst some healthcare practitioners. Screening and alcohol brief interventions (ABIs) can reduce risky drinking in various clinical settings. Recently, a program of screening and ABIs have been implemented in antenatal care settings in Scotland. However, current evidence suggests that midwives’ involvement in alcohol brief interventions activities is patchy. This study explored midwives’ attitudes and practices regarding alcohol screening and ABIs in order to understand why they are relatively underutilized in antenatal care settings compared to other clinical settings.

Methods

This was a qualitative study, involving semi-structured interviews with 15 midwives and a focus group with a further six midwifery team leaders (21 participants in total) in Scotland. Interview transcripts were analysed using thematic analysis.

Results

Midwives were positive about their involvement in the screening and ABI program. However, they were not completely convinced about the purpose and value of the screening and ABIs in antenatal care. In the midst of competing priorities, the program was seen as having a low priority in their workload. Midwives felt that the rapport between them and pregnant women was not sufficiently established at the first antenatal appointment to allow them to discuss alcohol issues appropriately. They reported that many women had already given up drinking or were drinking minimal amounts prior to the first antenatal appointment.

Conclusions

Midwives recognised the important role they could play in alcohol intervention activities in antenatal care. As the majority of women stop consuming alcohol in pregnancy, many will not need an ABI. Those who have not stopped are likely to need an ABI, but midwives were concerned that it was this group that they were most likely to alienate by discussing such concerns. Further consideration should be given to pre-pregnancy preventative measures as they are more likely to reduce alcohol-exposed pregnancies.

Keywords:
Midwives; Pregnant women; Screening and alcohol brief interventions; Fetal harm; Qualitative research