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Pressure rising on maternity services in Northern Ireland

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Maternity services in Northern Ireland are under pressure, as births to older mothers continue to rise, a union report has warned.

The number of babies born to older mothers in Northern Ireland continues to “rise steadily”, according to a new report published today by the Royal College of Midwives.

“Older women who become pregnant often require more care throughout their pregnancy”

Karen Murray

The RCM’s annual State of Maternity Services Report provides an overview of workforce trends taking place and identifies some of the challenges facing midwives and maternity services.

This year, for the first time, the RCM has published an individual report for Northern Ireland, as well as England, Scotland and Wales.

It highlighted that over the 10 years between 2007 and 2017, the number of babies born in Northern Ireland to women aged 30 or older has risen by 8.5%.

In 2017, however, a clear majority (57.5%) were to older women and the remainder (42.5%) were to younger women, noted the college in its report – titled State of Maternity Services Report 2018: Northern Ireland.

“The RCM welcomes the fact that the number of midwives in their twenties and thirties has risen”

Karen Murray

Karen Murray, the RCM’s director for Northern Ireland, said: “Births to older mothers continue to rise not only in Northern Ireland, but right across the UK and becoming a mother later in life is nothing new.

“However, older women who become pregnant often require more care throughout their pregnancy and we must ensure there remains enough midwives in post so that women in Northern Ireland can continue to receive safe, high quality care,” she said.

“We know when there are enough midwives they have more time to spend with pregnant women or new mothers where they can support them with infant feeding, obesity issues or to help them stop smoking,” she noted.

Ms Murray warned that the less time midwives had with women, the more likely it was that signs of postnatal depression, for example, could be missed.

“It is not just the age profile of mothers that presents a challenge,” she said. “The age profile of midwives does too.

Royal College of Midwives

Karen Murray

Karen Murray

In addition, the report revealed that the age profile of midwives and student midwives in Northern Ireland was changing.

In the five years to March 2018, the number of midwives in their twenties grew by 9.3%, which the RCM report noted was “positive”, though it cautioned against complacency.

Ms Murray said: “The RCM welcomes the fact that the number of midwives in their twenties and thirties has risen over the past number of years, but it’s vital that they are supported to remain in the profession so that they will be able to provide high quality maternity care for decades to come.

“We must also remember that midwives in older age categories will have given many years’ service to our maternity services and they bring a wealth of experience to their roles,” she said.

She added: “These midwives are essential to supporting new midwives coming in and establishing themselves in the profession.”

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