According to recent reports, one out of every four women is being left alone during labour or birth in UK hospitals.
Research from the Care Quality Commission shows standards within the NHS are improving but still fall short of the care standards promised over ten years ago.
The maternity survey asked the views of almost 18,500 women who gave birth in February 2017. The women were asked to comment on their experience of antenatal care, labour and birth care, and postnatal care.
Women Left Alone During Labour In Hospitals
The survey results showed more than 60% of women weren’t able to see the same midwife at each antenatal appointment.
At least 40% of new mothers weren’t able to access support after giving birth.
Although 77% of women said they weren’t left alone during labour at times when they were concerned, almost 25% of women were left to cope on their own.
Why Does This Matter?
This is the fifth survey carried out by the Care Quality Commission. The purpose of the surveys is to help the NHS to understand women’s experiences of their maternity care, and to determine which areas require improvement. In the US, the Listening To Mothers survey has the same aim.
Speaking directly to women is a key component of improving maternity care services. Often, however, the problem is the amount of time it takes to implement change and to remove barriers so change can happen.
The Royal College of Midwives UK has said the NHS needs 3,500 additional midwives to deliver safe, high quality care. Staff and bed shortages are rife in the UK, and there are frequent reports of women being turned away from maternity wards due to closures.
Short notice closures can mean women in active labour are forced to travel between hospitals – an experience that causes women to feel stressed about the possibility of giving birth on the side of the road.
As a result of these shortages, and the fear of being left without midwifery support, more women in the UK are turning to doulas to provide pregnancy and labour support.
How Can Doulas Help?
Improvements to maternity services should be the top priority of any government, but waiting for this to happen might be a problem for women planning to become pregnant or have their babies in the near future.
Continuity of care is an often-used catchphrase. It suggests women will receive care throughout pregnancy, birth and the postnatal period, from one or a known group of maternity care providers.
In reality, the delivery of care is spread across more than one care provider during pregnancy and birth and, most often, women do not even know the staff caring for them.
When a woman has support from a known person during pregnancy and labour, she has improved birth outcomes and greater satisfaction.
This support can come from a partner, but many women are now turning to doulas, particularly if they cannot access continuity of care at their chosen hospital.
A doula is an experienced birth support person, who provides emotional and physical support to pregnant and birthing women.
In the last decade, with more serious staff shortages, the number of doulas working in the UK has increased. In 2015 Doula UK estimated over 5,000 women chose to employ a doula to support them during pregnancy and birth.
During labour, a doula can do many of the things a midwife hasn’t time to do, such as provide comfort and support. This can help ease the fears of the birthing woman and her partner.
You can read more in Doula vs Midwife – What’s The Difference?
After birth, many women struggle to cope with the demands of a newborn, as well as learning to breastfeed and taking care of themselves.
Postnatal doulas lend a hand with domestic chores, support and encourage women to seek assistance with breastfeeding, and provide general help, as needed.
Research has repeatedly shown assistance from a doula, compared with standard maternity care, improves outcomes for women. These include a reduced risk of c-section and instrumental birth, shorter labour, increased satisfaction with the birth experience, and an increased likelihood of breastfeeding initiation.
With the number of women at risk of being left alone during labour, it is little surprise more women in the UK are turning to doulas to provide support.