Privacy or help? The use of curtain positioning strategies within the maternity ward environment as a means of achieving and maintaining privacy, or as a form of signalling to peers and professionals in an attempt to seek information or support


  • Barbara Burden SRN RM ADM PGCEA MSc Social Research

    1. Head of Discipline, Midwifery and Women’s Health, Faculty of Health Care and Social Studies, University of Luton, Luton, England
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Barbara Burden 121 Crowborough Lane, Kents Hill, Milton Keynes, MK7 6JN, England.


Midwives in the local maternity unit had noted that the interactions between women within the ward environment had started to decline. Women were spending long periods of time behind curtains drawn around their bed space. The staff hypothesized that this was because women desired the privacy of a single room. The literature review revealed a lack of understanding of the concept of privacy within a ward environment from a nursing or midwifery perspective. The review therefore, concentrated on the information offered by the fields of psychology and sociology. This study aimed to observe the methods women use to maintain or preserve their privacy within the ward environment. An ethnographic approach was used incorporating use of documentary evidence, participant observation and discussion, field maps and field notes. The findings of this study centred around the use of curtain positioning, subsequently referred to as ‘signalling’. The strategies employed by women included complete closure for total withdrawal, semi-closure for seeking information or support, and partial closure of curtains around the individual’s bed space for periods of solitude or rest. The findings have implications for both general and maternity hospital wards but in particular, wards within maternity units that incorporate women with mixed methods of infant feeding, or women in labour mixed with either postnatal or antenatal women.