Monday, March 19, 2007

Laboring alone

This story, which ran in the London Observer on March 18, discusses how frequently women are left to labor alone in the hospital. While that may not seem like a big deal, many studies have shown -- and human history has suggested -- that birth is quicker and less complicated when a mother has continuous, encouraging support for labor and delivery. In that context, it is a shame that women -- many more in the US than in the UK -- are often left in their room alone to handle waves of contractions. (Is it any wonder so many of us jump at the chance of an epidural?)

Here's the piece:

A survey of women who have recently given birth in hospitals has found that a fifth do not have a midwife or doctor by their side throughout the delivery.
Health experts are alarmed because official guidelines state that women in labour should have continuous care.

The growing shortage of midwives is leaving some maternity units struggling to cope, particularly as parts of Britain are seeing a rising birth rate.

The survey of 5,000 mothers, funded by the Healthcare Commission and produced by the National Perinatal and Epidemiology Unit in Oxford, also shows high levels of dissatisfaction with post-natal care, with many women saying that they felt stressed by noisy, crowded conditions where there was too little support, particularly for first-time mothers.

The findings come as the government prepares to announce its own maternity implementation strategy. Ministers have realised that maternity care has received too little money and direction within the NHS, and are identifying 'hot spots' where care is very poor.

The new strategy will give women the right to choose whether to give birth at a local hospital, in a more informal midwife-led unit, or at home with midwife support. This right to choice over place of birth, however, will not be implemented for another two years, as many parts of the NHS cannot yet offer all three options.

Dr Gwyneth Lewis, the national clinical director for maternity services, told The Observer that offering individual care was extremely important. 'If just one woman feels that she was left alone during the birth, then that is one woman too many. It is totally unacceptable to leave any woman alone.'

Lewis said she was well aware of the pressure on%

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