Defining midwifery autonomy in Belgium: Consensus of a modified Delphi study

Joeri Vermeulen, Ronald Buyl, Ans Luyben, Valerie Fleming, Maaike Fobelets

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Aims: Although there is substantial literature on autonomy of midwifery, the concept remains vague, and what it exactly constitutes is little clear. Attempts to define this have been carried out, but did not result in a communal understanding. The aim of this study therefore was to define a consistent definition of midwifery autonomy in Belgium. Design: A modified Delphi survey with content experts. Methods: Critical components of the available definitions on midwifery autonomy were retrieved from the literature, and translated into Dutch and French. An online Delphi panel of content expert assessed components of autonomy in midwifery on clarity and relevance between June and October 2021. From the validated components, a preliminary consolidated definition was generated, which was validated in a final Delphi round. Results: After round one, content experts (n = 27) evaluated 10 out of 17 components to be clear and relevant. Two components were judged inappropriate and therefore removed. After further adaptation four additional components were identified appropriate after the second round, and one component after a third Delphi round. Experts' suggestions for improving the clarity and relevance were taken into account. Finally, experts assessed the preliminary definition. After minor modifications the definition of midwifery autonomy in Belgium was confirmed valid. Conclusion: We established a communal definition of midwifery autonomy in Belgium, the creation of such a definition results in a joint understanding of the concept of midwifery autonomy. Impact: If midwives internationally want to successfully achieve autonomy, a clear understanding of the concept of midwifery autonomy is needed. The consensus definition of midwifery autonomy in Belgium comprises 15 components related to midwives' work content, professionalism and relationship with others. Our definition of midwifery autonomy has the potential to encourage an international dialogue, grounded in a common understanding of autonomy, enabling stakeholders in maternity care to strengthen professional midwifery autonomy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Advanced Nursing
Publication statusPublished - 9 Mar 2022


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