“Exploring the Birth Stories of Women on the Autism Spectrum” has earned Laura Foran Lewis, Ph.D., RN the 2022 Best of The Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nursing (JOGNN) award. Dr. Lewis, an assistant professor at the University of Vermont (UVM) College of Nursing and Health Sciences will receive the award in June at the 2022 Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN) Convention for herself and her co-authors, UVM and UVM nursing graduates Hannah Schirling, Emma Beaudoin, Hannah Scheibner, and Alexa Cestrone.

Laura Foran Lewis, Ph.D., RN.

Lewis and her team explored birth stories of autistic women to understand how they make sense of the experience of childbirth. Accounts of poor communication, untreated pain, and sensory overload dominated the birth narratives, as study participants expressed feelings that their concerns were minimized, their wishes were ignored, and they were left out of critical communication and education during the birth process. Participants also emphasized the struggle they experienced when their own autistic traits, such as sensory sensitivities, were out of balance with the birth environment, impairing their ability to communicate with providers and participate in the birth.

The study concluded that nurses could help improve the birth experiences of autistic women by providing thorough and nonjudgmental education about the birth process; trusting women’s reports of pain and anxiety; and making environmental adjustments to help minimize sensory overload.

The study results pose a new challenge to conclusions of previous research documenting delayed bonding between autistic mothers and their babies, Lewis adds.

“In the past, we’ve just assumed that these early parenting outcomes are directly related to autism, but our study sheds new light on the severe trauma many of these women face during childbirth that may lead to detachment and postpartum depression,” said Lewis.

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Lewis’s research contributes important evidence to the practice of inclusive health care, said Nursing Department Chair Rosemary Dale, Ed.D., APRN .

“Professional nurses care for a full spectrum of pregnant individuals. The more we are able to highlight the similarities and the unique needs of groups, then we are able to tailor our care and maximize inclusivity,” said Dale.

Lewis will receive the award at the 2022 Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN) Convention in June.

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