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Keywords:

  • emotional labour;
  • emotion work;
  • midwifery;
  • midwife–woman relationships;
  • feeling rules;
  • division of labour;
  • intimacy

Emotion work in midwifery: a review of current knowledge

Aim of the paper. To review the literature relating to emotional labour in the workplace and identify potential sources of emotion within midwifery work.

Rationale. There is substantial evidence to indicate that the quality of the relationship between midwife and woman is significant in determining the quality of the childbirth experience for women. Despite this, there is a notable lack of research regarding midwives’ experiences of participating in this relationship, and even less regarding the emotional issues involved.

Method. Literature review of relevant midwifery, nursing and sociological literature. Discussion of the theoretical perspectives provided by sociological and nursing research relating to the management of emotion at work and critical consideration of their application to an analysis of midwifery work.

Findings. Although these theoretical perspectives may offer significant insights of relevance to midwifery, there is much more that needs to be uncovered. Midwifery work has the potential for creating high levels of emotion work and current changes in the organization of United Kingdom (UK) maternity care may further increase this.

Conclusion. It is essential that midwives develop their understanding of emotion at work in order to improve their own working lives, and to meet the needs of childbearing women and their families. More research is needed in this field to develop a body of knowledge to inform midwifery education and practice.