PARENTS

Will More Mums Have Solo Births Because Of A Shortage Of Midwives?

11/11/2011 17:19 | Updated 22 May 2015
newborn babyRex Features

Our first son arrived serenely and without fuss, after a five-hour labour.

In fact, for my wife, giving birth had been such a low-key, stress-free affair that when our youngest child was due, she suggested a home birth.

"Are you mad?" I said. "We live in a flat. Think of the neighbours!"

But we went ahead, and this time the experience was even better than with our first son. Especially for me, obviously. I was watching a David Attenborough documentary when my wife went into labour and told me to call the midwife.

Planet Earth was still on the telly as the midwives arrived, laden with plastic sheets and oxygen bottles, and was just getting to a good bit involving orangutans when I was ordered to switch it off.

"You need to concentrate now, Mr Kendrick," one said.

By this time, my wife was on all fours, sucking and blowing air, so I joined her at the non-business end and tried to show some empathy. There was no real need. Ninety minutes later, our second son was out and wailing the place down. Another 20 minutes after that, the four of us – me, my wife and the two midwives – were sitting on the sofa drinking champagne. I kid you not.

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Now I appreciate not all home births are this relaxed, and I don't want to make light of statistics that reveal how risky they can be. A 2003 study of home births, for example, showed that 14 per cent of mothers ended up being transferred to hospital during labour. But statistics can be interpreted in two ways, and for me, that means 86 per cent went on to have very successful birth experiences in the comfort and convenience of their own homes.

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I was surprised to read this morning, then, that newly released figures from the Office for National Statistics for 2010 evealed that only 2.5 per cent of mums-to-be gave birth at home in England and Wales last year, down from 2.7 per cent in 2009, and 2.9 per cent in 2008.

Compare this to 50 years ago, when 33.2 per cent of women had home births (my own mother had three out of four of her children at home).

So why the decrease? Yes, you guessed it, pressure on already stretched resources. Up to 11 per cent of pregnant women want to have a home birth, but only a fraction of them live in areas where there is enough midwife support.

Elizabeth Duff, Senior Policy Adviser for NCT, the UK's largest charity for parents, said: "The benefits of one-to-one care from a known and trusted midwife, no travelling in labour and the chance to give birth in a private, relaxing, family environment make home birth an attractive choice for many women.

"Numbers of home births had been increasing until a decrease in 2009. With many maternity services overstretched, we need to see sufficient numbers of midwives to offer home birth as a realistic choice for families."

Such options and services are going to become increasingly essential, because according to ONS figures, more babies are being born than at any time since the early 1970s.

"Some believe that the fertility rate was highest in September, October and November 2010 because people were staying in more due to the bad weather," said a spokesman.

Perhaps, then, we're heading for a perfect storm: more babies are being born, more mums-to-be want to give birth at home, but there are not enough maternity services to accommodate that.

Could 'free birthing' or 'solo birthing' be the answer? In the U.S. some 7,000 women a year have a solo birth, and according to the Daily Mail, an increasing number of women in the UK are choosing to give birth without any help whatsoever. No gas. No air. No drugs. No doctors. No midwives. No doulas. Barely even some hot towels.

One mother, Cher Sievey, 30, decided to go the solo route after a bad experience with the NHS when her first child was born eight years ago. The fashion designer from Stoud, Gloucestershire, had her next two children, now aged three and 20 months, with only her husband to assist her.

"One doctor said I should be put in prison for what I planned to do," she said.

But she wasn't breaking any laws, because a woman in the UK is not obliged to give birth in hospital or be attended by a professional. It is only an offence for someone other than a registered professional to attend a woman in labour, except in an emergency.

For Cher, everything went without a hitch. Some people may feel a little queasy that she chose not to cut the cord, allowing instead for it to fall away naturally after a few days, which meant the newborn slept alongside its placenta, which was wrapped in a towel. But for Cher, it was the most natural thing to do.

"It is what our closest relatives, the chimpanzees, do," she said. "I felt it was right that my baby, who'd been attached to her placenta for nine months, should be the one to decide when it was no longer needed."

I mentioned the idea of free-birthing to my wife, and she was quite unfazed by it. "Trust the mother's instincts," was her reply.

But the NCT fears that more women will feel pressure to go it alone because of pressure on NHS resources.

"Only a very small minority of women actively choose to give birth without having a midwife with them," said a spokeswoman. "For a healthy woman, with no known complications, who is tuned into her body and her baby's needs, labour is usually straightforward. However, there may be complications that the family cannot cope with if birth is not attended by a trained midwife.

"It is essential that women receive responsive, individualised care so that they do not feel the system encourages them to consider giving birth alone."

Did you have home birth or were you persuaded not to?

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