Midwife shortage is 'forcing women to risk their lives in dangerous DIY home births'

A naked pregnant woman

Home births are increasingly popular but their dangers are going unrecognised

A desperate shortage of midwives has been blamed for fuelling a dangerous trend for DIY home births.

The head of the Royal College of Midwives said women are still being denied choice in maternity care.

Many don’t want to have their baby in hospital, after reports of overcrowding and dirty wards.

But because of the lack of midwives or midwife-led birth centres they are going ahead at home without medical intervention – known as ‘freebirthing’.

Dame Karlene Davis said: ‘Some women aren’t certain about home births and others want them but the service can’t provide.

‘The worry is that women will do it themselves. If you’re not offering women choice that is the danger.

‘Technology and the internet has led to people thinking they can do freebirthing.

‘If a woman has had a positive experience then people think it’s something worth trying.’

Ministers have pledged that, by next year, women will be able to have their child in hospital, at home or in a midwife-led birth centre.

But maternity care is being sidelined by the introduction of ‘super-surgeries’ while new restrictions on midwives coming from overseas threaten to worsen the situation, said Dame Karlene.

This would encourage more women to try freebirthing, she said. Freebirth devotees refuse any sort of intervention from a doctor or a midwife because they want the birth to be as intimate as possible.

British mother Julia Wilson gave birth to her son Lucien last year without assistance and posted the video on the web.

But birth experts warn that resorting to these extreme methods could put mothers and babies at risk.

Dame Karlene said she was deeply disappointed by a claim from the Home Office’s Migration Advisory Committee that there was ‘no evidence’ for a shortage of midwives.

This means the profession could be moved off the shortage occupation-list for incoming migrants. She said: ‘There is a serious shortage of midwives in England and I would like to see the evidence that contradicts this.

‘Even the Government agrees there is a shortage and has promised to recruit 3,400 more fulltime midwives.’

She added: ‘The Royal College of Midwives estimates that England needs a minimum of 5,000 full-time midwives to provide the quality of service promised in the Government’s blueprint for maternity services, Maternity Matters.

‘Meanwhile, we are in the midst of a baby boom as the birthrate rises sharply, and almost half of all midwives are set to retire in the next decade.’

She called for more funding to support those wanting to train and work as midwives, or return to the profession.

‘Without a concerted effort from the Government and the NHS to recruit and train more midwives, and back this up with the money needed to do it, we will continue to have a midwife shortage in England.’

NHS spending on maternity in England was cut by £55million in 2006-07, while the birth rate has risen by 16 per cent since 2001.

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