The National Federation of Women’s Institute (NFWI) and NCT are launching a comprehensive research report into the real life experiences of women giving birth in the UK on Friday 3 May. The research found that 60% of women are being let down without enough postnatal support.  

The research examined the experiences of 5,500 women who have given birth in the past five years – over 4,000 of these births were in 2012 – and found that women are not getting the support that they need, while over-stretched midwives are battling to meet ongoing and increasing demands on their time. 

A staggering 60% of women wanted more support with postnatal care immediately after giving birth, and 20% of women did not see a midwife as often as they needed in the days and weeks after birth.  

This situation varies tremendously with unacceptably wide variations in the quality and standard of care across different areas of the country.  Women in London suffered the worst in the postcode lottery with over 25% reporting they were unable to see a midwife as often as they wanted following birth.  

Ruth Bond, Chair of the NFWI, said:

“This report provides insight into the patchy and staggeringly inconsistent levels of care that are a day to day reality for women in the early days and weeks following the birth of a child.  Almost 2,000 women will give birth across the UK today, sadly many will be let down at a time when they most need help.  Evidence shows that providing the right care and support in the transition to parenthood can have a long term impact on the health and wellbeing of women and their families, yet women are being routinely failed, often this seems to be because of staff shortages.  Support is overdue, we’re calling for urgent action to address postnatal care and put an end to the postcode lottery.”          

Despite clear commitments made to deliver choice in NHS maternity services, and a robust framework of guidance for service providers, the research found that we are still not getting maternity services right. Freedom of Information requests made as part of the research revealed that despite the on-going baby boom, 67 out of 84 trusts (79%) did not meet the recommended staffing ratio in 2011, furthermore many did not have plans in place to address their staff shortages. It is clear that workforce shortages continue to impact on all parts of maternity services. 88% of women had not met the midwife who cared for them during labour and birth before going into labour. 

Belinda Phipps, Chief Executive, NCT, said:

“We are extremely concerned about the shockingly high number of women who have been let down by their maternity care. Parents who are poorly supported during pregnancy and labour are more likely to suffer mental and emotional consequences and feel less equipped to face the ups and downs of the months ahead.  It is equally worrying to see that the level of care given to parents varies so significantly by postcode. With rising UK birth rates, governments cannot afford to sit on their hands.  Consistent, high quality care is a must for every parent during their first 1,000 days.” 

The report sets out a series of recommendations for maternity planners to improve the quality and consistency of maternity care.  We urge maternity planners to:

  • Review staffing with a view to fulfilling the standard, set by the four medical and midwifery royal colleges, of a midwife-to-birth ratio of 1:28 per year;
  • Take action to ensure continuity of care: NICE postnatal guidelines are robust, but seem to be implemented inconsistently across different areas. One trust in London reported it offered women three postnatal visits as standard, a neighbouring trust offered women just one – yet both reported they were delivering in line with the guidance. Poor data and recording hampers proper analysis and means it is difficult to get a comprehensive picture of care standards and service provision.
  • Enable women to build and maintain a relationship with their midwife: many women give birth in locations chosen by them and known to providers months beforehand; facilitating a relationship between midwives and women in their care would help provide much valued continuity of care from the antenatal period into labour and postnatal care.          

Doula UK spokesperson Kicki Hansard, said, “it is worrying to hear how many women feel the maternity services have let them down; particularly in the postnatal period when new families often struggle to adjust to life with a new baby and when women are increasingly recovering from caesarean births.”

  “Doula UK supports NFWI and NCT’s call to ensure maternity units and community midwifery teams are properly staffed and able to give sufficient time and compassionate care to all women across the UK.”   “The support of a postnatal doula has been shown to be invaluable to many families during this time and we are pleased to see many initiatives across the country using experienced and well-prepared lay supporters during the postnatal period. While we are clear that this should never replace sufficient midwife provision, we know that the continuous and unconditional support of a doula can make a profound impact on maternal satisfaction and breastfeeding rates and are keen to work across the UK to ensure all women have access to the practical and emotional help they need before, during and after birth.”