The Blog

Baby Boom is the Real Story, Not Teenage Mums

If the tabloids are looking for the real story here, it is not about teenage mums or even twentysomething grandparents, it is the baby boom, and the extreme pressure that is now placing on midwives and the care they provide.

Teenage pregnancies are a mainstay of tabloid journalism. Flicking through their pages only this week I read a story about a couple who had become grandparents whilst still in their 20s. To those who are so inclined, this helps reassure them that the country is going to the dogs, that we are all headed to hell in a handcart.

Unfortunately for the doom-mongers, the facts do not back up their analysis. They are peddling a myth. Newly-released numbers reveal that there were fewer births to women (and girls) aged under 20 - i.e. teenage mums - in England and Wales in 2010 than there were in any year since 1956. Only about one birth in every 18 was to someone aged under 20. Surprising, isn't it?

But the number of births overall is not down, far from it. The country is in the midst of a baby boom, with births running at a 40-year high. In Scotland, for example, the number of births is up 12% since 2001, up 15% in Northern Ireland, up 17% in Wales and up 22% in England. But this baby boom is being fuelled not by teenagers but by older women.

Births to women aged 40 or more were higher last year than in any year since the NHS was founded in 1948. If we widen this group a bit and include all women aged 30 or more, the number is higher than at any time since 1946, when the number of births spiked following husbands, fiancés and boyfriends returning home after the end of the Second World War.

Whilst the percentage rises were highest amongst women in their thirties and older, women in their twenties are having more babies too. Babies born to women aged 20-24, for example, rose by over 28,000 between 2001 and last year, whilst for the 25-29 age group it was 39,000 more.

This presents a double whammy challenge for midwifery. The big overall increase in the number of babies being born - up over 138,000 across the UK as a whole - obviously requires more midwives, and remember there was a shortage of midwives even before the baby boom began. Added to this, older mothers also need more care as their pregnancies carry more risk, which again puts pressure on the midwifery workforce.

England is where the shortage is at its worst, and we estimate that the NHS in England needs around 4,700 more midwives to be able to offer women the standard of care they want and deserve.

If the tabloids are looking for the real story here, it is not about teenage mums or even twentysomething grandparents, it is the baby boom, and the extreme pressure that is now placing on midwives and the care they provide. Last year, before the election, David Cameron promised 3,000 more NHS midwives for England. It is time now for him to make good on that promise.