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Action needed to protect women from birth trauma – MP

More must be done to protect women from birth trauma, a Tory MP has said after a new poll revealed that traumatic births have prevented a significant proportion of women from having more children.

Theo Clarke said that it was “vitally important” that women receive the care and support they need after a traumatic birth.

It comes after a poll of members of the Mumsnet community found that more than half (53%) who had suffered birth trauma said their experience put them off having more babies.

The MP for Stafford has previously spoken out about her own birth story, where she described how she thought she was “going to die” after suffering a third degree tear and needing emergency surgery.

She has since set up an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Birth Trauma to try to highlight the plight of thousands of women who suffer similar situations each year.

A poll of 1,000 members of the Mumsnet website, shared with the PA news agency, found that 79% of those surveyed had experienced birth trauma.

While the poll does not represent all mothers across the UK, it provides a snapshot of the experiences of those who use the popular parenting site.

The survey also found that 72% of those who had experienced birth trauma said their issue had not been resolved a year after giving birth.

Theo Clarke
Theo Clarke has spoken out about the ‘horrendous experience’ women have after a traumatic birth

Among those who had experienced physical, emotional or psychological birth trauma, 44% said healthcare professionals used language which implied they were “a failure or to blame” for the experience.

Three quarters (76%) of all of those polled said they felt that health professionals had become “desensitised” to birth trauma.

Almost two thirds (63%) said they did not believe healthcare workers did everything they could to prevent birth trauma.

And 64% said they felt a “lack of compassion” from healthcare professionals during labour.

Commenting on the poll, Ms Clarke said: “These survey results are deeply upsetting. They speak to my own experience of birth trauma and quite clearly to many, many other women’s horrendous experiences too.

“That more than half of women across the UK who responded say they are less likely to want another child because of their birth experiences and they were made to feel they were to blame is simply terrible.

Baby stock
Some 79% of those polled said they had experienced birth trauma (PA)

“The survey is clear that more compassion, education and better after-care for mothers who suffer birth trauma are desperately needed if we are to see an improvement in mums’ physical wellbeing and mental health.

“The APPG is now up and running in Parliament and will continue to listen to mothers and experts to drive fundamental change in how we treat mums. Our ambition is for birth trauma to be included in the Government’s women’s health strategy.

“It is vitally important women receive the help and support they deserve.”

Mumsnet chief executive Justine Roberts said: “We hear daily on Mumsnet from women who have had deeply upsetting experiences of maternity care, and this latest research underlines that the majority of mothers experience birth trauma – whether physical or psychological.

“This trauma has long-lasting effects and it’s clear that women are being failed at every stage of the maternity care process – with too little information provided beforehand, a lack of compassion from staff during birth, and substandard postnatal care for mothers’ physical and mental health.”

Kim Thomas, chief executive of the Birth Trauma Association, added: “It is time for a complete overhaul in the way women experience maternity.

“This should include: honest, evidence-based antenatal education; compassionate and professional care during labour; and postnatal care that is designed to identify and treat every birth injury or mental health problem.

“A maternity system that puts women at the heart of care is not some kind of unfeasibly high goal – it is the bare minimum that women have the right to expect.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are committed to making the NHS the safest place in the world to give birth, and improving support for women before, during and after pregnancy is a priority in the Women’s Health Strategy.

“We are investing an additional £165 million per year to grow and support the maternity workforce and improve neonatal care. NHS England recently published a three-year plan to make maternity and neonatal care safer, more personalised, and more equitable for women, babies, and families.

“To support women following trauma related to their maternity experience, we are rolling out 33 new maternal mental health services, which will be available across England by March 2024.”