Two women talking and holiding hands

A very dear, young friend of mine gave birth to her third child this week. Yippee!

Her two previous births were C-sections and she was desperate to experience a natural labour and a vaginal delivery.  She did some extensive research about what the implications of this was.  During her early weeks of pregnancy, she went on a search to find the best maternity care that would support this desire. 

She found this support and went on to experience her first vaginal birth and her first daughter!

She knew her rights.

Another mum, a gentle, agreeable soul, birthed her first baby just 12 months ago.  She was a real ‘yes’ type of woman.. nothing too difficult for her, beautiful in every way.

She went on to have a natural vaginal delivery.  It was long, difficult, required multiple interventions; baby was in a particularly difficult position and many other factors contributed to this.  On occasion, birth just looks like this.  This was no one’s fault. 

She had all interventions explained as they always should be and she said ‘yes’ to each one.

12 months later she called me, very upset.  She had spent her baby’s first birthday crying. 

After much reflection, she described to me her feelings about her brith,.  She said she felt violated.  She exclaimed she felt foolish however, because she knew she had been shown respect and had given her consent, when requested. 

She had consented with her mouth, but not with her heart; of course there was more going on for this mumma.  She tells me later that she felt she HAD to say ‘yes’.

She DID NOT adequately understand her rights and perhaps required an advocate.

What are Rights?

Rights or Human Rights are based on principles of dignity, equality and respect, regardless of background.  They’re about being treated fairly and without prejudice.

As a birthing woman, you have Rights. You have autonomy over your own body. Pregnancy and Birth should not change this.

So, what are your rights as a pregnant/birthing woman?

1. Privacy and confidentiality

Privacy is a fundamental right in life and in birth too! It is essential and gives us space to be ourselves without judgement.  It allows us to think without discrimination and gives us control over who knows what about us and this gives us rights in the face of potential power imbalance.

Feel free to protect or be the protector of your birthing partner’s privacy!

2. Information and the right to give informed consent or refusal of consent

This is perhaps the most important point to ensure you understand.

You have the right to receive all the benefits and risks of any given procedure or intervention, to understand these, and to be give an opportunity to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

If you do not understand the procedure being proposed, you have the right for it to be explained again until you do so and are able to give informed consent or refusal.

Of course, with choices comes the consequence of those choices and so women need to be well-informed and to naturally take responsibility for choices made.

In the case of an emergency where life-saving measures are required, the law does recognise that consent may not always be obtainable.  Family members may be sought in such situations (if possible and applicable) and doctors must always act in the best interests of the patient.

Where english is not the patient’s first language, a doctor will assess whether there is sufficient understanding of these risks and benefits, otherwise a qualified health interpreter will assist either in person or by phone.

3. To be treated with dignity and respect

This is a pretty obvious one and you know when you’re not, right?

4. Autonomy and the right to self determination without coercion

Just because you walk into a hospital or birth suite, doesn’t mean you loose control of your own body.  There will be policies and guidelines that are specific to each hospital that are recommendations. But remember: YOU are in charge and can call the shots (and change your mind too!!) at any point :)

A guideline released by The Australian Govt, NH&MRC, Dept of Health and Aging states:

A woman decides who she involves in this decision-making process, be it a health professional, partner, doula, her extended family, friends or community (p14 Box 2.2) and should be free to consider their advice without being pressured, coerced, induced or forced into care that is not what she desires (McLean and Petersen 1996)

5. Be free of hard and poor treatment


6. Access the the highest level of care.

Of course.  You should expect the highest level of care in whichever maternity setting you’ve chosen.

Knowing your Rights during childbirth is very important and should be taken seriously.  You can refuse treatment without any feeling of shame or embarrassment.

The way a woman is treated during childbirth can have enormous ramifications on her future wellbeing, both in a physical and psychological sense.

It might be helpful to remember The Law is not a set of guidelines or recommendations, it’s The Law.  And…  ‘No’ means No.

Both of the dear friends that I referenced at the beginning of this article, are deeply grateful for the most beautiful gift that they have in their children.  One has a positive reflection of their birth experience already and the other, will perhaps need some time to process what happened that day. 

I think it’s pretty clear that when you know your Rights, and can be assertive about these, or perhaps even have a strong advocate who can take this role for you.. how upon reflection, your birth can be a really positive one.

Make sure that YOUR Rights are asserted so that you might also enjoy your birth reflections.

Resource list:

If you’re having a Homebirth, please take a look at the Pregnant Woman’s Bill of Rights and Responsibilities (link below)

The pregnant woman has the right to choose how she,ancillary medical support when needed.

If you’d like to read further regarding consent and information-sharing regarding medical intervention, please see the link below. -