Midwifery leaders have warned that maternity services are “on a knife-edge” just as the biggest baby boom in 40 years is expected.
The Royal College of Midwives says there will be more than 700,000 births in England this year - and there were 4,600 more babies born from January to March than last year.
But with maternity services being reduced across the NHS nationally, RCM chief executive Cathy Warwick warned: “Today’s midwives simply have never seen anything like it. The demand this is placing on the NHS is enormous.
“The baby boom is restarting with renewed vigour. We are already at birth numbers that haven’t been seen for at least a couple of generations, probably not in the working life of any midwife practising today.”
The warning comes as the government announced £25m funding for en-suite overnight rooms in maternity wards and other facilities for expectant mothers.
The RCM said over a quarter of midwifery department chiefs say they have endured budget cuts in the last 12 months while the average number of births per midwife has increased, and it reckons there is a shortage of 5,150 full-time equivalent midwives.
Student midwife numbers are being cut, those who are just qualified are finding it hard to secure work - and a third of them are unemployed.
Just under 90% of 2,000 midwives questioned for a poll said they are unable to give women the care they need.
Ms Warwick added: “NHS maternity services, especially in England, are on a knife-edge.
“We have carried shortages for years, but with the number of births going up and up and up. I really believe we are at the limit of what maternity services can safely deliver.”