Royal College of Midwives apologises after calling mothers ‘postnatal people’

The terminology was used in their recently-issued safer sleeping guidance

Laura Hampson
Friday 03 December 2021 10:51

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) has apologised after referring to mothers as “postnatal people” in a set of recently-released safer sleeping guidelines.

The guidance, published on Wednesday evening, made no reference to women, instead referring to mothers as “postnatal people”.

RCM removed the guidance from its website on Thursday morning after it had received backlash on social media soon after it was published.

Following the publication of the guidance, author Milli Hill tweeted: “New safe sleep guidance from @MidwivesRCM makes no mention of women or mothers. Instead they are ‘postnatal people’. This in spite of the fact that evidence shows safety differences if baby co-sleeps with breastfeeding mum / non BF mum / dad. #sexmatters.”

Hill’s tweet received 545 likes and 131 retweets and the RCM tagged her in their apology on Thursday.

The apology tweeted by RCM read: “We would like to apologise that women are not mentioned in our recent safer sleeping guidance. This was a huge oversight on our part, especially as we are committed as an organisation to ensure that women are never erased from the narrative around pregnancy and birth @millihill.

“We have taken it down from our website while we revise and correct this omission.”

Twitter users were quick to respond to RCM taking the guidance down, with one user commenting: “Women are not an abstract concept to be redefined or erased at will. Deconstructing us in language insults our intelligence and dignity. We will never accept it.”

Another wrote: “Your mission is to support/help women through pregnancy and childbirth. That you omitted the word woman is unconscionable. I am glad you have apologised and are revising but can you explain how this came about in the first place? It undermines all confidence in you.”

Some people supported RCM’s terminology, with one Twitter user commenting: “As a cis woman I'm not offended at being called a person especially if that language is more inclusive.”

Before it was taken down, the sleeping guidance published by RCM said: “Postnatal people in hospital should have easy access to the call bell system, be shown how to use it and ensure it is working – they should be provided with a bed-side cot for the baby to use while in hospital.”

Hill tweeted following the apology saying if the guidance was an oversight, then “it’s even more impressive”. The author wrote: “People annoyed at the RCM, saying it was a ‘non apology’ and that their saying it was an ‘oversight’ is BS, well, in a way, if it wasn’t an oversight, it’s even more impressive? It means they’ve decided to push back against a very complex situation of ideological capture?”

It’s not the first time a medical organisation has changed its terminology around biological sex. In September, the Lancet medical journal was accused of sexism after describing women as “bodies with vaginas” on its cover.

The wording was used in reference to an article titled “Periods on Display”, a review of an exhibition on the history of menstruation at the Vagina Museum in London.

“Historically, the anatomy and physiology of bodies with vaginas have been neglected,” the front cover read, sparking backlash.

When contacted by The Independent, the Royal College of Midwives said they had no further comment.

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