'It must be right, I saw it on TV!': An observational study of third stage birth practices in popular television programmes

JRSM Open. 2023 Oct 19;14(10):20542704231205385. doi: 10.1177/20542704231205385. eCollection 2023 Oct.


Objectives: To examine modern media depictions of the third stage of birth in a selection of UK television representations.

Design: Observational study of a sample of televised fictional and real births, audited against current National Institute of Health and Social Care Excellence (NICE) guidance.

Setting: UK television channels BBC (Call The Midwife and This Is Going To Hurt) and Channel 4 (One Born Every Minute).

Participants: 87 births from 48 episodes, sampled from the three shows.

Main outcome measures: The primary outcome was the number of births where the cord was clamped at more than 1 min after birth. Secondary outcomes included place and type of birth, measures of dignity and paternal involvement.

Results: Overall, the timing of cord clamping was clearly shown in 25/87 (29%) of births, of which only 4/25 (16%) occurred at more than 1 min in screen time. The place of birth and caesarean section (CS) rate changed according to the series perspective and era; graphic explicit images were shown, but these related to CS detail.

Conclusions: UK television shows have accurately depicted changes in place, culture and type of birth over the last century. They provide the public with a view of new rituals but an inaccurate picture of good quality care. Early cord clamping was shown in most births, even those set after 2014. No programme informed viewers about the safety aspects. When showing outdated practices, broadcasters have a public health duty to inform viewers that this is no longer recommended.

Keywords: Cord clamping; depictions of birth in art; neonatal care; observation; placental transfusion.