PhD Studentships


Zumba 4BUMP

Lesley Smith and Ethel Burns

Zumba 4 BUMP is a community based exercise, education and support group for women who are pregnant or who have recently had their baby.

It incorporates a dance-based exercise class tailored for pregnancy, followed by BUMP club where women discuss health and pregnancy-related topics, provide emotional and practical support for each other all with input from experienced midwives. The remit of a typical session varies from week to week, but always centres on health awareness for women. Most of the time topics stem from questions and concerns women have had in a previous session.

Midwifery students at Oxford Brookes University have the opportunity to attend sessions and gain valuable experience of a woman-led antenatal education class which brings together pregnant women and women who have recently had their baby. They also have the opportunity to contribute to sessions. In 2012 two student groups won a student alumni award to deliver Yummy BUMP and Relax BUMP.


Fit 4 Labour

Current research and health promotion regarding physical activity during pregnancy are focussed on exercise, as opposed to general daily activities, and on women who are overweight or obese. Whilst the effects of exercise programmes on mode of birth have been inconclusive, a recent cohort study suggests that lower physical activity levels increase the chance of instrumental and Caesarean delivery.

This research involves three student midwifery-led projects based on quantitative and qualitative data collection to investigate how activity levels change over the course of pregnancy (Holly Edmundson), and to explore pregnant women’s views and knowledge of recommended activity and exercise whilst pregnant (Sarah Sharples). The MAMA-CAM study will explore the use of a novel wearable device to measure PA in these women (Claire Litchfield).

Engaging Underrepresented Young Women in Health Research

Sarah Howcutt – PhD Student

Findings from large epidemiological surveys and cohort studies inform national health planning and policy. Yet, while a greater proportion of women than men volunteer to take part in these studies, a consistent pattern has emerged that younger women (aged 16-34 years), notably those who are more likely to engage in health and lifestyle risk behaviours (e.g. smoking, heavy episodic drinking and poor dietary habits), remain underrepresented in research which asks questions about their health and lifestyle behaviours.

This project therefore aims to explore psychological theories of decision-making and advertising to develop feasible, effective and ethical strategies to improve recruitment and retention of young women in health-related research studies. An exploratory mixed methods design will be used to involve this target population in this evaluation process through focus groups which will progressively inform the recruitment strategy. Finally, the emergent approach will be tested against current methods through the analysis of the response and completion rates of a quantitative lifestyle survey.

Stay With Your Midwife

Lesley Smith

The 'Stay With Your Midwife' project is a bespoke antenatal midwifery programme of healthy lifestyle interventions aimed at enabling women who have a BMI > 25 at booking to maintain a healthy weight gain in pregnancy to prevent pregnancy complications such as gestational diabetes and pre eclampsia associated with excess weight gain. A key objective is to reduce the number of women transferred from the midwifery led care pathway due to excess weight gain, enabling more women to plan birth at home or in a midwife led unit.

Pregnant women in BUCKS will be offered a combination of face-to-face and virtual midwifery advice, information and support, alongside self monitoring and health ownership strategies. The support will be offered to women from 14 weeks gestation until birth in addition to routine antenatal care. The outcome measures will be both quantitative and qualitative; including patient experience alongside antenatal, labour and birth clinical outcomes. This project has been funded by the Strategic Clinical Network (NHS England) and it is the first regional antenatal programme aimed at obesity prevention rather than obesity management in pregnancy.


Ethel Burns

Birthing pool use during labour and in particular waterbirth, whilst popular with women, remains a controversial and marginal care option in the UK and other countries. Practitioner concerns centre primarily on the safety of waterbirth for women and their newborn.

A lack of evidence to support or refute concerns stimulated Ethel to conduct an international prospective study with two aims; firstly to examine whether birthing pool use during labour and waterbirth can normalise birth by reducing interventions and increasing spontaneous birth for women who experience a straightforward pregnancy, and secondly, to investigate what typically happens to women having their first or subsequent baby and choose to use a birthing pool during labour in their planned place of birth. The UK dataset (N=8,924 women) of the larger study formed the basis of Ethel’s PhD project, and publication (Burns et al 2012).

A publication based on the Italian dataset followed in 2014 (Henderson et al 2014).

Related Projects 2015

  • Writing a paper based on a dissertation undertaken by BSc midwifery student, Laura Davis in 2014. This work involved secondary analysis of data from the UK dataset comprising women who had a waterbirth, and who planned to give birth in an Obstetric Unit or an Alongside Midwifery Unit. The aim was to examine the effects of waterbirth on perineal trauma in general, and risk factors for OASIS in particular.
  • In May 2015, pre-registration MSc midwifery student, Megan Beckhurst completed her dissertation, which involved creating and testing the impact of a video training session student midwives’ ability and confidence to accurately estimate blood loss in the birthing pool environment. Her study comprised a pre and post-test assessment. Megan succeeded in gaining two Santander awards to support her video creation.
  • Ethel is undertaking a feasibility study to gauge women’s and midwives’ views about the acceptability of participating in a randomised controlled trial on waterbirth.
  • Ethel is a co-investigator with a team of Australian researchers led by Hannah Dahlen as principal investigator for a study protocol submitted for NHMRC funding. This study proposes to adopt a patient directed cohort with a nested randomised controlled trial design, in order to examine the safety of waterbirth for newborn and women.

"Mind over Maternity and "Mind the Bump"

Sarah Hennelly

For her PhD, Sarah is conducting a 'Mind over Maternity' study with women in the second and third trimesters of their pregnancies. This is an investigation of the associations between natural levels of mindfulness (which is characterised by high levels of self-acceptance, compassion, regulation and awareness), the psychological factors of affect, stress and wellbeing, and adherence to guidelines for alcohol, smoking, exercise and dietary supplements. She is also evaluating feasibility outcomes of a novel mindfulness-based intervention called ‘Mind the Bump’, which incorporates goal-setting and self-monitoring with a standardised eight week mindfulness course for women who are pregnant.

Eating and Expecting

Victoria Coathup

Current evidence suggests that the toxic effects of alcohol on foetal development are exacerbated in the presence of inadequate nutrition. This project aims to describe the dietary intake of women who drink alcohol whilst pregnant. This will help us understand if such women are at risk of nutritional deficiencies that may impact on foetal development, and to gain an insight into how women make choices surrounding dietary intake and alcohol consumption.

The project consists of two phases and uses a mixed methods approach. The first phase is a dietary assessment of women who drink alcohol during pregnancy, with a particular focus on folate, choline, betaine, vitamin C and carotenoid intake. I will be using two different types of dietary assessment methods; 24-hour dietary recalls and a food frequency questionnaire (FFQ), to measure intake. The second phase consists of in-depth interviews with women and will explore the reasons behind alcohol consumption and dietary habits during pregnancy, and aims to contextualise the data from phase one.

Baby Cafe

Hazel Abbott

The Oxford Brookes University Baby Café was launched in April 2012 as a weekly ‘drop-in’ session for new mothers at the Women’s Centre, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust. It provides breastfeeding education and skilled support for mothers in an informal, café-style environment. Whilst supporting women to initiate breastfeeding successfully, the Baby Café offers an ideal opportunity for midwifery students to observe best practice, apply their knowledge and develop their practical skills in breastfeeding management. It is the first ‘teaching’ Baby Café in the UK.

The establishment of the Oxford Brookes Baby Café builds on the Unicef Baby Friendly accreditation achieved by the University in 2011 and its commitment to support breastfeeding. Oxford Brookes University is also viewed as “a baby friendly beacon” for its breastfeeding achievements and initiatives by the Oxfordshire Baby Friendly Alliance – an umbrella group representing new parents and those who support them, dedicated to supporting breastfeeding and achieving Baby Friendly accreditation at every level throughout Oxfordshire.

Baby Café, established in 2000, is a national network of breastfeeding drop-ins, combining the expertise of skilled practitioners and mothers to offer invaluable support to parents at all stages of breastfeeding in a professional but non-clinical, environment. Baby Café became a charitable trust in 2005 and then in 2010 Baby Café merged with NCT, the UK’s largest charity for parents, to help more mums who want to breastfeed. To find out about other UK Baby Cafés, visit

Digi Booze Ad

Lesley Smith, James Van Santon and Thuy Phan

Digital media is a ubiquitous presence in young people’s lives with over 90% of 12-15 year olds accessing the internet at home and spending an average of around 16 hours per week online. Almost half of 10-12 year old internet users have a profile on age-restricted social networking sites. Alcohol brands use sophisticated multi-media approaches to market their products on-line through direct advertising, and more subtle methods such as videos, competitions, quizzes and games inviting users to engage with the content.

Research has indicated that the more alcohol marketing a young person is exposed to, the more likely they are to start drinking at a younger age and drink more. The purpose of this study is to estimate young people’s exposure to alcohol marketing by using real-time monitoring of industry generated promotions on digital media, and to assess the usefulness of different self-reported measures for quantifying exposure.

Funded by ERAB (The European Foundation for Alcohol Research)



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