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Positive Birth Conference 2017: Service User Experience

Day featured excellent contributions from professionals and researchers around positive birth

by George Wigmore (Senior Communications Officer)

The Centre for Maternal and Child Health Research held a conference towards the end of July which aimed to share research and experiences related to positive birth.

Featuring a number of high profile speakers and guests from the area, the day shared some of the latest research from the discipline as well as service users’ experiences in order to explore the concepts of positive birth and informed choice. The event was organised by Judith Flood, a midwifery lecturer in the School of Health Sciences at City.

Introducing the day, Sheena Byrom OBE, spoke about the importance of a positive birth experience for women. “We want children to be emotionally and physically well – both go together,” she said, while also highlighting that the experience of mothers also needs to be monitored too.

Following on from Sheena, Professor Susan Ayers, Professor of Maternal and Child Health at City, University of London, spoke about ‘Birth trauma: risk and resilience’, discussing how the events of pregnancy and birth can be stressful and exacerbate or trigger mental health problems.

In the UK, evidence suggests about around 20% of women experience birth as traumatic. This can then trigger a range of psychological disorders. Recent studies and evidence show that around 3-4% of women develop PTSD as a result of birth. However, Susan emphasised that most women – 55% more specifically – who have a traumatic birth do not develop PTSD.

To help improve resilience, Susan spoke about how support has been shown to help buffer against negative experiences of stressful and traumatic events, and make a substantial difference.

“We need to look at the risk factors and what makes birth traumatic, but we also need to look at resilience. We can then work together to promote a positive experience as it’s important we do everything we can to prevent birth being traumatic,” she said.

Cathy Warwick CBE, Chief Executive of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), then spoke about ‘better births – the user experience’, discussing women’s experience of maternity care, and the importance of enabling choice.

“Choice is not just about what women want, but what we enable them to want,” added Cathy, while pointing out that women’s choice is being constrained by the closure of Freestanding Midwifery Units.

Following Cathy, Dr Octavia Wiseman, a Research Fellow at City, spoke with Professor Angela Harden from University of East London about the NIHR-funded REACH project, which aims to improve access, value and experience of antenatal care (ANC) for socially disadvantaged and ethnically diverse communities who experience some of the worst birth and infant outcomes in the UK.

Specifically Octavia and Angela spoke about the Pregnancy Circles aspect of the work, which has been shown to break through the cultural divides present in places such as Tower Hamlets which have very diverse populations, while also addressing some of the issues regarding inequality in care for certain ‘at risk’ populations. Currently the project team are building on an initial pilot study, with a Randomised Control Trial involving 1,460 women and 60-80 circles aiming to start in 2017/18.

Following Octavia and Angela, Dr Ellinor Olander, Senior Lecturer at City, discussed ‘Women’s views on the continuity of care as provided by midwives and health visitors’. Recent work by Ellinor has shown that continuity was seen to be very important to new mothers, especially due to the large number of healthcare professionals that women meet during pregnancy. The handover between midwives and health visitors was also highlighted as an important time.

In particular, Ellinor and colleagues carried out a study which explored women’s experience of continuity of care, interviewing 29 participants. They found that the same location didn’t make a difference in terms of continuity of care, but that the appropriateness of a location was more significant, as for some participants meeting the midwife and health visitor at home after birth was very important.

The study also highlighted that there was some surprise from some participants that health visitors were not aware of what had been told to the midwife or what had happened in pregnancy, with participants emphasising that they were happy for people to ‘share all the information you can’.

Finally, Milli Hill, from the Positive Birth Movement, spoke about the movement and how having started it in her living room there are now there are 250 groups in UK and over 200 globally. The Positive Birth Movement provides free to attend antenatal discussion groups, which enables pregnant women to meet others and share thoughts, ideas and information while also hearing Positive Birth Stories as well as options and rights.

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