Childbirth 'lonely and frightening' for thousands of women

Chronic shortages of midwives and the "medicalisation" of childbirth are leaving women terrified, alone and in pain during labour, according to a survey published today.

Chronic shortages of midwives and the "medicalisation" of childbirth are leaving women terrified, alone and in pain during labour, according to a survey published today.

The survey of more than 3,000 new mothers found that many felt antenatal classes left them unprepared and that childbirth and its aftermath was dominated by a lack of good-quality care.

Women were left alone during labour, without a midwife or doctor present, for an average of one hour and 21 minutes, with some facing up to two hours without medical supervision.

Two-thirds of the mothers said they had been strapped to electronic monitors "continuously", despite NHS guidelines recommending that the 80 per cent of women deemed to be low risk should only be placed on the equipment intermittently.

Many were not allowed to move around and were left lying in bed, waiting up to an hour for pain-relieving epidurals and without being told what was happening to them.

Only 4 per cent of women had the same midwife during labour who had cared for them during pregnancy. Just 5 per cent had experienced an entirely natural birth, with one in five undergoing a Caesarean. Furthermore, 25 per cent said they were not told what was happening during labour, and half felt they received sub-standard nursing care after the birth.

Elena Dalrymple, editor of, which carried out the survey, said: "Although midwives try their hardest to provide mothers-to-be with the quality of care they should have in the delivery room, the fact is that staff shortages make it almost impossible for them to do so."

Chronic shortages of midwives across the country but particularly in London and the South-east have meant that many women do not have continuity of support from antenatal care to delivery of their baby.

According to figures from the Nursing and Midwifery Council, there are now 8,000 fewer midwives in the UK than 10 years ago. The Royal College of Midwives, which is due to publish its latest audit of vacancies next week, says that 10,000 more qualified staff are needed to plug the gaps.

Belinda Phipps, chief executive of the National Childbirth Trust, said: "The problem is that maternity is managed in acute NHS trusts, and they are geared up for treating sick people, rather than healthy women in labour. We need enough midwives to ensure that women get one-to-one, continuous care throughout their labour."

Scottish women were the most satisfied with their care, perhaps because that country has the highest ratio of midwives to mothers.

Eileen Reilly, a consultant obstetrician at Inverclyde Royal Hospital, said that many doctors and midwives felt the need to make medical interventions in childbirth, even when it may not be necessary, because of the fear of being sued.

"There is sometimes a culture of fear surrounding litigation, which means that obstetricians intervene when it may not be necessary," she said. "People want guarantees that nothing will go wrong. [But] intervention can breed intervention and then the whole process is medicalised." She added: "Sometimes information, communicated badly, can inspire fear in patients. I have had women requesting Caesareans for their first pregnancy because they are so scared about giving birth." While the trend is towards midwife-led birth units situated away from acute hospitals, these have led to problems. Safety rules governing the running of these units mean that they cannot give women pain-relieving medication such as epidurals. This means that women who attend the units and experience problems may face a drive of hundreds of miles, in labour, to a hospital that can then treat them.

Suggested Topics
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

    £13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

    £18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

    Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

    £20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power