More complex pregnancies are on the increase, despite a drop in the overall number of births, according to a report.
The third annual State of Maternity report was published on Sunday by the Royal College of Midwives and Bounty Parenting Club. It brings together a range of data affecting midwifery.
The report reveals rising demands and higher expectations from mothers, as well as a continuing shortage of midwives and concerns about the morale of an ageing midwifery workforce.
In 2012, there were almost 700,000 babies born in England. This was up 29% compared to 2001, with births in London leading the way followed by the South West and the East Midlands.
However, latest figures for the first six months of 2013 suggest this boom may be over, with a drop of 18,000 births in England compared to 2012.
But the RCM noted that, although the number of births was now dropping, maternity units remained under pressure.
For example, the report said births to older mothers continued to rise far faster than for other age groups – which required more complex care, attention and support from midwives.
In 2012, there were 85% more babies born to women in England aged 40 or over than there had been in 2001. Similar, but slightly smaller increases, were also seen in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The report highlighted particular UK hotspots for births to older women. In East Renfrewshire, Windsor and Maidenhead, Brighton and Hove, Wokingham, and Surrey, 30% or more of all births in 2012 were to women aged 35 or older.
Other areas saw big jumps in the percentage of births to women in this age group. Luton, for example, saw the share of births to women aged 35 or above jump from 16% in 2011 to 20% in 2012.
Obesity is another area of growing complexity, the report warned. The incidence of maternal obesity in the first three months of pregnancy in England more than doubled from 7.6% to 16% between 1989 and 2007.
Between May 2010, when the Coalition was formed, and July 2013, the latest month for which we have NHS workforce figures, the number of full time equivalent midwives working in the NHS in England rose by 1,311, or 6.5 per cent.
The number of midwives is currently rising faster than the number of births, putting the NHS “on track” to eliminate its historic midwifery shortage, according to the RCM. However, the college estimates there is still a shortage of 4,800 midwives in England.
RCM director for midwifery Louise Silverton said: “We have reached a crossroad and the government must not take its foot off the accelerator and continue to pump money into maternity care.”
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