Consent and refusal of procedures during labour and birth: a survey among 11 418 women in the Netherlands

Marit Sophia Gerardina van der Pijl, Margot Klein Essink, Tineke van der Linden, Rachel Verweij, Elselijn Kingma, Martine H Hollander, Ank de Jonge, Corine J Verhoeven

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Informed consent for medical interventions is ethically and legally required; an important aspect of quality and safety in healthcare; and essential to person-centred care. During labour and birth, respecting consent requirements, including respecting refusal, can contribute to a higher sense of choice and control for labouring women. This study examines (1) to what extent and for which procedures during labour and birth women report that consent requirements were not met and/or inadequate information was provided, (2) how frequently women consider consent requirements not being met upsetting and (3) which personal characteristics are associated with the latter.

Methods: A national cross-sectional survey was conducted in the Netherlands among women who gave birth up to 5 years previously. Respondents were recruited through social media with the help of influencers and organisations. The survey focused on 10 common procedures during labour and birth, investigating for each procedure if respondents were offered the procedure, if they consented or refused, if the information provision was sufficient and if they underwent unconsented procedures, whether they found this upsetting.

Results: 13 359 women started the survey and 11 418 met the inclusion and exclusion criteria. Consent not asked was most often reported by respondents who underwent postpartum oxytocin (47.5%) and episiotomy (41.7%). Refusal was most often over-ruled when performing augmentation of labour (2.2%) and episiotomy (1.9%). Information provision was reported inadequate more often when consent requirements were not met compared with when they were met. Multiparous women had decreased odds of reporting unmet consent requirements compared with primiparous (adjusted ORs 0.54–0.85). There was considerable variation across procedures in how frequently not meeting consent requirements was considered upsetting.

Conclusions: Consent for performing a procedure is frequently absent in Dutch maternity care. In some instances, procedures were performed in spite of the woman’s refusal. More awareness is needed on meeting necessary consent requirements in order to achieve person-centred and high-quality care during labour and birth.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberbmjqs-2022-015538
JournalBMJ Quality and Safety
Early online date22 May 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 22 May 2023


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