Listening & learning from women in maternity care

Pregnant woman holding tummy

Midwifery care is crucial to delivering safe high-quality care as well  as listening to and acting on women’s experiences of maternity services.

The RCM has welcomed results of a major survey from the Care Quality Commission. The report on women’s experience of maternity care, which shows the majority of women who gave birth in February 2021 were positive about the maternity they had received. The report did acknowledge, however, that the pandemic and midwife shortages has led to a poorer experience for some.

While there has been much improvement in some areas the RCM says the results indicate areas of maternity care that have suffered more than others during the pandemic, in particular postnatal care.

According to the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) Executive Director Midwife, Birte Harlev-lam, “Listening and learning from women’s experiences of maternity care is crucial and should go towards informing how NHS maternity services are delivered. To see that most women surveyed had a good maternity experience in spite of the COVID-19 restrictions and staff shortages is really testament to the hard work and commitment of midwives during a very difficult period where services were and continue to be under immense pressure.

“We know that lockdown restrictions on visiting have impacted many women, their partners and families who could not attend some appointments and scans, this was upsetting particularly for first-time mothers and for the midwives striving to deliver care. The vast majority of women surveyed are happy with the care, compassion and kindness shown by midwives which is so instrumental to delivering good maternity care. We are also pleased to see women reported always being spoken to in a way they could understand during their antenatal check-ups. Again, sharing information clearly with women and placing them at the centre of their own care to make choices that are right for them is something the RCM strongly advocates.”

While four out of five women surveyed said they were offered a choice of where to have their baby, some were not, which according to the RCM is as result of severe midwife shortages in parts of England. The College, unfortunately, says choice of place of birth is too often lost because of understaffed maternity units, with community midwives and homebirth teams being called back to units to plug the staffing gaps. Also, midwives have also told the RCM that they felt they couldn’t always give the level of care they wanted because there were too few of them.

The delivery of postnatal care and mental health support for women was something the RCM was concerned about during the pandemic. Most women said they were given enough support for their mental health during pregnancy. However, postnatal care again has fallen short of what it should be.

She added, “The RCM has long called for more investment in postnatal care which for too long has been the Cinderella of NHS maternity services. Better investment and more staff and resources for postnatal care are needed to help us achieve the best outcomes for both mother and baby. For women, the postnatal period can often be an extremely exhausting and worrying time, particularly for first time mothers, and this is when the highest level of care and support is needed most for some women.

“While we welcome the UK Government’s commitment to recruit more midwives, we currently remain 2,500 midwives short in England alone and desperately need to retain those who are considering leaving the profession if the shortage is not urgently addressed and prioritised, our maternity services will continue to struggle to support women. More midwives mean women will get the care, time and support they truly deserve.”