‘Risk talk’ and reducing fear

To conquer fearToday, I’m sharing a study which I wrote about in my newsletter a few weeks ago. Canadian midwife Vicki van Wagner (2016) looked at ‘risk talk’ and shows how it is possible to use language and other strategies in order to avoid further contributing to the culture of fear.

This is a topic very close to my heart, as I have also carried out research which looked at this area, albeit from a different starting point. In her research, van Wagner talked to 50 Canadian midwives, doctors and nurses involved in maternity care about the strategies that they used in order to mitigate the effects of the ‘lean to technology’ that they felt was characteristic of the modern approach to maternity care.

“Their strategies to put risk in perspective include finding comparable everyday risks, using words and pictures to describe numbers and using absolute risk and numbers needed to treat rather than relative risk. They warned about the need to balance a culture of fear combined with maternal altruism. Time, reassurance, awareness and humility were seen as key tools.”

The paper contains lots of great ideas, although I am left with a burning question, which is whether the participants had a sense that some of the actual numbers and evidence that they were offering as examples are debatable. Not everybody would agree, for instance, with some of the statistics quoted about induction of labour, because the quality of the research itself was variable, but I understand that authors have limited wordage and it’s impossible to include everything.

If you’ve ever wondered what you can do to reduce the effect of the modern, fear-based approach on women’s experiences and help frame decisions in a more positive way, I would recommend you read this paper. Here are some suggestions for those who don’t have institutional access to these journals.


Van Wagner V (2016).  Risk talk: Using evidence without increasing fear. Midwifery 38: 21–28.  DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.midw.2016.04.009

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