Making a move! 

We’ve just returned from a three month epic trip to Australia. All through our adventures we debated about whether or not we should move to this amazing land, and what it would mean for us and our family.  Our son Tom lives in Sydney, and we miss him so much. But our other son, James has made his roots in the Netherlands, and we miss him too! Then there’s the girls, Anna and Olivia, just a stones’s throw away from our home, and when we’re in Holland or Australia, our yearnings are with them.

The debate went on.

During our holiday I spent time with my niece’s friend Paul, who is a fabulous photographer. Paul showed me his self-developed website, and that’s when I new I had to move! I just had to take the plunge.

For the past three weeks I’ve been learning and preparing for the big day, and now I can share it with you. It’s not been easy, but I think it’s worth it.

I hear your gasps of excitement and alarm.

I’ve moved, to here! I do hope you take a peep at my new ‘home’, and that you consider following me there.  You see, I’m not moving to Australia, but a new website! Ta-da!

By sheenabyrom

Part of the tipping point: a time to ROAR

Reflecting on the roar....Torquay, Australia

Reflecting on the roar….Torquay, Australia

What a month February 2015 has been so far.  We are in Australia on an extended holiday, and as well as enjoying the positive culture and bright skies, I’ve been lucky enough to be part of so many inspiring maternity related conversations, twitter chats, initiatives and book publications. The ‘Tipping Point’ in maternity services, that I often talk about, is ever closer.

From the other side of the world I am excited and encouraged to see the connection of so many like-minded individuals in the UK, ‘meeting’ on Twitter, helping to improve the maternity experience for women and families in England. Initiated by the wonderful Kath Evans, head of patient experience for NHS England,  Gill Phillips, founder of ‘Whose Shoes’ is working closely with midwives, obstetricians, policy makers, parent organisations, academics and most importantly those using maternity services, to find out what really makes a difference to those using maternity services. Florence Wilcock, #FabObs obstetrician and divisional director at Kingston Hospitals in London, and a member of the London Maternity Strategic Clinical Leadership Group, is helping to lead this much needed initiative. You can read about, follow, and get involved on Twitter here #MatExp. The project is gaining momentum and beginning to influence services in London, and the fact that social media is being used to spread the word, to engage and to influence is adding to the success. It means the potential for exclusion is reduced, and collaboration increased. I can’t wait to get involved in person when I return to England.

I’ve also been privileged to review two fabulous books. The first is Milli Hill’s inspiring book ‘Waterbirth: stories to inspire and inform’ which is a collection of personal accounts of waterbirth, by mothers, fathers, siblings and maternity care workers and you can read my thoughts about the book here.

I finished reading the review copy of Rebecca Schiller’s new book All That Matters: Women’s Rights in Childbirth yesterday, and I was rocked. This superbly crafted and revealing book, written for the Guardian, is a ‘must-read’ for all those providing maternity care, and if we really aim to tip the balance, policy makers, parents to be, teenagers, in fact each member of society would do well to read and act on Rebecca’s words.  Rebecca is a mother of two young children, a writer, doula and birth activist, and she begins by making it clear that her book is about women, yet acknowledges those who support her during childbirth. She also clarifies early on that her book, whilst highlighting many appalling situations around the world, suggests that the problems are usually systemic and cultural, and not the fault of individual practitioners.

As well as detailing the horrors of reality that women experience in  several countries, All That Matters is full of insightful conclusions, which gave me assurance that Rebecca really understands personally and politically, what is happening around childbirth practices globally, and what needs to be done. There are examples of excellence too, where organisations and countries have responded to potentially damaging reproductive care practices and are providing positive approaches to supporting women around conception, pregnancy and childbirth. Connecting ‘childbirth’ as a reflection of societal attitudes, and feminism, really resonated with me…

‘As a mirror to society, childbirth, the attitudes to it, practices around it and experiences of women going through it, reflect the progress that has been made in advancing women’s rights’

I could carry on here explaining why you should buy and read All That Matters. I could fill two pages or more. However Maddie Mahon, doula extraordinaire, has written an excellent review of the book here, which represents my opinion and reflections too. Rebecca Schiller’s book is more than timely. It is being released just shortly before our book, The Roar Behind the Silence: why kindness, compassion and respect matter in maternity care.

Screen Shot 2015-01-23 at 15.58.27

This is incredible, as collectively these books hold the potential to inform and influence the ‘tipping point’ by adding to the evidence already available that improving maternity care and respecting women’s rights enhances societal wellbeing.

Claire with baby, and Lynda her midwife and friend

Claire with baby, and Lynda her midwife and friend

And finally, I want to share this beautiful photograph of Claire having skin to skin with her newborn baby, and her midwife, Lynda Drummond. I worked with Lynda many years ago, and also supported her after a traumatic birth experience. I saw this photo on Facebook, and contacted Claire to ask if I could use it. This is what Claire said:

‘I’m so glad you like this photo, I really do. Through each of my 3 births my midwife has seemed like my angel and I’ll never forget the roles that they each played. Although Lynda was at my 3rd birth as a friend to me, she was the one who helped me get the birth I had always wanted, having her there gave me the confidence I needed to believe I could do it, she had me laughing and dancing throughout the labour, she managed to persuade the midwives on duty that I could go in the pool even though my first birth was an emergency section . This photo to me sums up how utterly amazing she is, gentle, caring, supporting, angelic. I hope she knows it.


I’ve also included a photo of me at 7cm dilated, the big cheesy grin is totally drug free and totally genuine. All down to Ina May and Lynda Drummond……… oh and the cheesy radio station playing Valentines day songs, I think Rod Stuart ‘If you think I’m sexy’ had just been on!’

Claire Riding

With our book in mind, I look at Claire’s birth photo and description of her midwife, and I sense the Roar Behind the Silence.

Men, Love & Birth: ‘being present’

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 20.39.55

This book, Men, Love & Birth is out this Spring, and is eagerly awaited by many of us! Here I’ve actually interviewed the author-midwife extraordinaire, Mark Harris! Hope you enjoy it…please leave comments for Mark at the end of the post…

Hi Mark! We’ve never met in real life; I’ve only read about you, and your brilliant reputation as a midwife and speaker. We’ve connected via Twitter, and when you told me that you were writing a book, I was delighted for you. What a privilege to interview you for my blog site…thanks for agreeing! And this is the first time I’ve used audio, so I really welcome your input-let’s see!

[These are the questions I proposed to Mark, and he recorded himself answering them…see the clip below]

Can you introduce yourself, and tell us about what you do?

I know that you are a father and grandfather. Does this influence your work at all?

Denis Walsh once told me that after he studied feminism, he change his opinion slightly on male midwives. What are your thoughts on male midwifery? It would be great to have your perspective.

Do you feel that fathers engage with you differently, being the same sex? Also, during your work, do you get any feedback from how dads about their experiences of the birth of their baby?

Mark, what are your thoughts about the publication of the new NICE intrapartum care guidance, in relation to recommendations on place of birth?

What are the three highlights of your health service career Mark ?

I know that you are currently writing a book, and that it’s due to be published early next year! Wow. How exciting. Can you tell us a little bit about it? 

And lastly, if you could change one thing, anything, in maternity services, what would it be?

‘If I could change one thing is maternity service I’d want the ratio of midwives to match the population of women giving birth to be one to one.

The role of ‘being with’ women as support of and pointer to her inner power to birth amazingly takes attention and ‘un rushed’ time, waiting, watching connecting to the emerging family she is being privileged to meet.

It’s very challenging to offer this type of care to more than one woman at a time, regardless of how complex or not their needs area….’

Mark with his grandson

Mark with his grandson

Wow. Thank you so much Mark for the insight into your thoughts on your career, midwifery, ‘being present’, men and birth, and feminism! I feel like I know you already, and so look forward to meeting you this year.

Good luck with your book!

You can follow Mark on Twitter @Birthing4Blokes

By sheenabyrom

Feeling the power & tasting the satisfaction: a circle full of water

In the early 1990’s I was lucky enough to be a community midwife, supporting women to have home births. When one of the women I was caring for, Helen, told me she was planning a water birth at home, I was both excited and fearful. You see I had never seen a waterbirth, let alone facilitate one, and so off I went to speak to my supervisor of midwives. With support and adequate education I felt more confident when Helen went into labour, and with a trusted colleague I helped as Helen’s baby was born calmly into warm water, in the candle lit living room of his parent’s home. This photograph was taken sometime after the birth, after I checked to see if any stitches were needed! Happy, happy, memories for all of us….

Me with Helen, following her home water birth in 1990s.

Me with Helen, following her home water birth in 1990s.

Several years later when I was working in the same organisation, but in the obstetric unit as a senior midwife, I became aware of midwives feeling unable to facilitate water birth on the main delivery suite, as the pool was being used for storage! In addition to that, one particular midwife who didn’t approve of this mode of birth, was creating barriers for other midwives to use the pool, which was causing distress. After giving them support, several enthusiastic and passionate midwives (Joanne and Katriona leading) went on to develop their skills in the use of water for labour and birth, organising study days and developing flexible guidance. There was significant change after this, and water became an option for labouring women using our service. Today, women using East Lancashire Hospitals maternity service have 9 water-pools to choose from, women are actively encouraged to use them, and the water birth rate is 15% in the overall service, and 40% in birth centres!

So why I am telling you all this? Well, last year the fabulous Milli Hill put out a call for waterbirth stories, via social media channels. Milli was editing a book, and wanted positive experiences of waterbirth to be shared to help and inspire others. I contacted staff at the same maternity unit mentioned above, and shared the request with local mothers too, via our Facebook page. Two individuals responded, and I have mentioned them below!


I’m in Australia at the moment, and after the exciting and much awaited publication of Milli’s book ‘Waterbirth: stories to inspire and inform this month, Milli offered to send me a copy to review! I read the book from cover to cover in a couple of hours, and I loved it. Apart from feeling totally in awe of the women who shared their positive tales, I learnt lots.

This title of this blog post Feeling the power & tasting the satisfaction: a circle full of water is taken from Milli’s introductory chapter and epilogue, and the last sentence of ‘Lisa’s story’ (Lisa Hassan Scott page 25). This book gripped me from the beginning; it is full of stories of the power of birthing women, of personal emotions, and of relationships between birth partners, parents, and health professionals.

After a short but revealing and well written introduction to the book, Milli tells two of her own birth stories. This helps to put the reader in the picture from the beginning, and brings perspective as to why Milli decided to produce the book. It’s the first time we read the word ROAR, music to my ears, and used several times in other birth stories too!

I loved the inspiring quotes at beginning of each chapter…I’ll definitely use them in my work.

The stories are varied, from around the world, and include accounts of personal water births from researchers, siblings, doctors, stay home mums, dads, midwives, birth activists, and doulas. Some of the births were in hospital or birth centres, and some at home. Midwives who featured in the stories included those that are independent (private) and others working for the NHS, and whilst some mothers experienced barriers to their choices from staff, most stories are complementary of the empowering approach of their care-givers. Confirming my own experience and knowledge, it was the attitude of maternity care staff that seemed to have the greatest impact on a positive birth experience. An example of this was when a mother had a breech vaginal birth after a previous Caesarean section (VBAC) at home, and after her baby had been born the emergency services were called, and both mother and baby were transferred to hospital. Jenn found the whole experience enormously empowering and positive… and excited to do it again (Page 61)! It seems from her words that the way Jenn was treated, and her choices facilitated, that made the difference.

My daughter Olivia trying out one of the pools at Blackburn Birth Centre

My daughter Olivia trying out one of the pools at Blackburn Birth Centre

Many mothers used the term ‘sacred space’ to describe the protective element of the birth pool. I found this enlightening as I had only thought about the other more commonly described benefits that water brings to a laboring women; ability to move, warmth, natural element, pain relief, and body weight disappearing. These too were highlighted by the authors of the chapters, but the circular structure of the pool, and being almost ‘untouchable’ to others seemed to have an impact on reducing fear. Some of the stories included accounts of a previous traumatic birth, and the space and structure of the pool seemed to give them the power to have the birth they wanted second or third time round.

Some of the mothers used hypnosis in addition to the water, and one used the shower instead of a pool, and another a standard bath, which worked perfectly for them. I read stories of breech water birth, twin water birth, and water birth after three previous Caesarean sections. Another interesting observation I made was that several of the babies where born in their ‘caul’, which means the membrane sac around the baby in utero was still intact and protecting the baby throughout the birth process. A sure sign of minimal intervention.

For me, there was personal satisfaction and humble pride in holding this book in my hands, and reading the two stories from our local maternity service, where I used to work. Both babies had been born in Blackburn Birth Centre, an establishment I helped to develop in 209-2010. One of the mothers, Rachel Barber, mentioned the fact that a student doctor had been present. Now isn’t that the way forward?

Excerpt from Rachel's water birth story

Excerpt from Rachel’s water birth story

Whilst all the stories are inspiring and reassuring, Diane Garland’s lovely account of a mother getting in the water-pool with her young frightened daughter made my heart sing. However, Diane was baffled when the young mum texted and Facebook-ed her friends following the birth, and states that she doesn’t understand ‘young people’s fascination with social media!’

I would like to tell Diane I’m not that young!

So Milli, thank you so much for editing this amazing little book. I will be recommending it to all my friends, colleagues, pregnant family members, student midwives (a MUST read), midwives and doctors. What a gem. I hope it becomes part of the suggested toolkit for women and their partners to believe in birth as a natural social event, instead of a medical illness. Bravo!

Follow @waterbirthbook on Twitter!

By sheenabyrom

Reflecting on 2014, and the social media party….


Sat in the sun today, on the last day of 2014 feels wonderful…the Australian climate, especially here in Victoria, is comforting. I’m thinking constantly about and missing my family in UK and Europe, where the snow is falling or the frost biting…especially because it’s the festive season. And in a few days we will see our son Tom for first time in 2 years, now that’s something to be excited about!

It’s been an incredibly interesting year.

We’ve travelled lots, spent precious time with our family and friends (although sometimes not enough), and met so many new lovely folks. The thing that’s really helped me to stay in touch, connect and re-connect, is social media. I can’t believe the power it has to bring people together, support, offer opportunites….

Here are some of the highlights:

At the beginning of 2014 my midwife daughter Anna Byrom and I wrote an article about social media for can access it here. It was our first article together, and quite symbolic. The article highlights all the benefits of using social media, and some of the pitfalls…and includes this diagram of myths and fears of social media, and offers some solutions, so I won’t repeat these here!

Screen Shot 2015-01-01 at 12.36.10

Byrom S, Byrom A. MIDIRS Midwifery Digest, vol 24, no 2, June 2014, pp 141-149

After being invited to help with the social media activity at the ICM Congress in Prague in June, I encouraged midwives to join Twitter and become Twitter Buddies to help others to benefit from the enormous benefits it brings. We had 115 midwives, future midwives, doulas, obstetricians joining in from around the world…and from that others were encouraged too. One of those midwives, Deidre Munro, has become quite a phenomena in the tweeting midwifery world…she established the #globalvillagemidwives concept which is gaining momentum by supporting student midwives and midwives, and increasing social capital. And Deirdre keeps us all updated on the latest evidence on maternity matters which is invaluable #EBP.

I have been privileged to help the wonderful charity Best Beginnings with their amazing new Baby Buddy App, by testing it and disseminating the benefits .

Our new book, The Roar Behind the Silence is due to be published in February. Edited by Soo Downe and I, the book explores why kindness, compassion and respect matter in maternity care, and has over 20 chapter authors from around the world. Because of social media, I found and connected with potential contributors-mothers, midwives, doulas and doctors all wanting to help us to try to make a difference. Some of these remarkable individuals are already know in the maternity world, and others are breaking through the ‘silence’ and have written words of inspiration to highlight issues, support others, and provide ideas for change. I’ve yet to meet some of them, and I hope 2015 brings us together! We’ve already been invited to give talks about the book at various events, which is what we hoped for. We really would like the book to be used as a resource for supporting positive change in maternity care. Here’s short excerpt from the final chapter….

Editors: Soo Downe and Sheena Byrom

Editors: Soo Downe and Sheena Byrom

I have been joined by two fabulous midwives in running WeMidwives, which has been an enormous help. The wonderful Jenny Clarke, known fondly by all as @JennyTheM is our Skin to Skin specialist, and our lovely Caremaker midwife Dawn Stone @HelloMyNameIsDawn  and I are now a team!  @WeMidwives has an ever increasing membership, and helps to positively support student midwives, midwives and all interested or working in maternity care.

Student midwives are our future…and they are certainly making an impact. There is an incredible increase in the number of Midwifery Societies lead by students, and they are unstoppable. Instead of worrying or complaining about the cost of high profile conferences, they organise their own study days…inviting the same speakers from the events they cannot afford to attend. How brilliant is that? I’ve been privileged to attend many of the days, and have witnessed the passion, determination and courage of our future profession.

'Selfie' taken with student midwives at Carlisle University in September

‘Selfie’ taken with student midwives and lecturers  at Carlisle University in September

Because of Twitter, and meeting the wonderful @KathEvans2, I am helping NHS England to support maternity care workers to provide the best maternity care they can, through learning and sharing good practice. I participated in some filming about the importance of communication; a topic close to my heart.

Filming in Manchester

As an Iolanthe Midwifery Trust trustee, I’ve set up their first Twitter account @IolantheMidwife. This has been an exciting step forward, and it’s so encouraging to see the interactions between student midwife and midwife award winners. Long may it continue…. And lastly, there’s my blog…what a privilege to interview Soo Downe, Hannah Dahlen, Toni and Alex from One World Birth, Petra ten Hoope-Bender, Alison Baum CEO of Best Beginnings…quite something! Yesterday I received a report on my blog…here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 47,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 17 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

I love writing my blog…and follow many other blogs too. Do YOU write a blog? Do you have any favourite blogs relating to maternity services to recommend? Please let me know in the comments section below, as I’m planning to publish a list….

So now it’s time to plan for 2015


Will you be joining the party on Twitter?

By sheenabyrom

Inspiration and technology: Alison Baum blending the two!

Alison Baum

Alison Baum CEO Best Beginnings

I have been observing Alison Baum’s phenomenal achievements for many years, and have been captivated by her passion, energy and charisma. Alison is the CEO of the charity Best Beginnings, and there’s more about the brilliant work the organisation does in this post. After becoming increasingly involved in Alison’s latest project, the Baby Buddy App I wanted to interview her, to find out a little more about the inspiration behind her successes. In particular, I wanted to know more about this app, and why she was driven to make it happen!


Alison, Hi! Can you tell me what the Baby Buddy phone app is?

Baby Buddy is a personal baby expert that guides mums through their pregnancy and the first six months of their baby’s life. It has been designed to help mums give their baby the best start in life and support their health and wellbeing. The app is free to download, and it allows you to create your own personalised avatar (your “Buddy”) and has lots of lovely features, including useful “daily information”, some great videos, a cool goal setting function called “You can do it,” a “What does it mean” feature where you can find out what words means, and a very helpful “Appointments” feature. Baby Buddy focuses on empowering young mothers, as well as increasing their knowledge, improving confidence, enhancing bonding and attachment and reinforcing the importance of accessing health services.

What is the inspiration behind the creation of the app?

Our charity Best Beginnings is all about ending child health inequalities in the UK. This means giving every baby the best possible start in life. Our vision is a future in which all children in the UK enjoy excellent care from the very beginning. My own personal experience has been a major influence on what we are trying to achieve. My first son David was born with a cleft palate as well as breathing and feeding problems. My second son Joshua was also born with a cleft palate and developed viral meningitis at 8 days old. My nephew Joe has a condition called Tuberous Sclerosis, he has multiple and complex healthcare needs, including severe learning difficulties, autism and epilepsy. Sometimes things go wrong, and some health problems are unavoidable, and we all do what we can to make the best of a situation. But as I became more and more aware of the shocking child health inequalities that exist in the UK, I realised some things are avoidable. For example, it’s totally unacceptable that a baby born in Bradford is six times more likely to die in infancy than a baby born in Tunbridge Wells. For the most part these inequalities are avoidable and that is what I decided to focus my energies on. Best Beginnings was set up in 2006 and the Baby Buddy app is an important part of that vision as it is designed to support parents-to-be and new parents in the social, emotional and physical transition to parenthood, and in giving their baby the best start in life. Baby Buddy focuses particularly on engaging young parents, who based on the evidence, are more likely to find the transition to parenthood harder and their babies are more likely to have poorer health outcomes. We as a society have failed to give them information in a way that works for them. Young parents want to give their babies the best possible start and we’ve created this app as a way to help them do just that.

How is it different to all those other parenting apps on the market?

Some apps are offered at a cost but Baby Buddy is free to all. Another important thing is it contains content that can be trusted. Everything in the app has been approved and endorsed by organisations including the Royal College of Midwives and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. Pregnancy or parenting apps give daily information based on the mother’s pregnancy stage or the baby’s age. No other app straddles pregnancy and birth with content which covers the emotional as well as the physical, which mentions the mother, baby and partner by name which is different content whether or not the mother has a partner and/or is or isn’t breastfeeding, all of which has been endorsed by many key maternal and child health organisations. This means the user gets the right information at the right time. We’ve had a huge amount of input from parents and professionals too. Through this, and with a clear vision of what is possible, we’ve created something that has never been done before. Baby Buddy is unique in its combination of endorsed content, friendly chatty style, its practical and interactive features, and in the ways it is being used. Baby Buddy has also been designed to be used as a tool by healthcare professionals to both support and complement their work. We have been working with local areas to actively embed the app into care pathways.

Is it easy to use?

Yes, installing the app on to your phone could not be easier and only takes a few minutes. Anyone can access it – mums or dads, health or social care professionals, peer supporters and other charity workers – as long as you have either an Android phone – in which case visit this, or an iPhone – in which case visit this link. Everyone who registers gets access to all the app’s features. We ask that people please register as who they really are not as who they are imagining being. We are (as an anonymised dataset) keeping track of who is using Baby Buddy, where in the country users are and (if they complete the in-app questionnaires at 7 and 8 weeks) what they think of it. For example, we are keen to see how many midwives, health-visitors, paediatricians, obstetricians, psychologists etc are using it in different parts of the country. So, tempting as it may be to go in as a 19 year old pregnant woman when you are an interested professional, please register with your real age and profession. Once you are registered you’ll end up having exactly the same experience as the 19 year old pregnant women you have in mind when testing the app. The in-app data will help us get the app ever better. We’ve only released the 1.0 version and this will be a multi-year project informed by in-app and site-based evaluations. Our web page has it all spelled out here. The app itself is very visual, and uses lots of images and video clips. Many mums who have been giving us feedback tell us how much fun it is to use the avatar, which can be customised. There are well over a million different avatar Buddies you can create, each with their unique combination of body shape, skin tone, eye shape and colour, nose, lip shape and colour, outfit and hairstyle, and if the user chooses, virtual earrings, necklace and sunglasses.

Why do mothers need an app when we have so much information on the web available?

Very few young parents with babies are far from their smart phones these days and it makes sense to deliver key messages and support to them in this way. Mums have been telling us that, frankly, they are overwhelmed by the amount of information out there and searching the web for an answer is a minefield when you don’t know if the source can be trusted or not. Baby Buddy has a fantastic Ask Me function that gives them answers to all their questions on pregnancy, birth and parenting, as well as a “what does it mean?” feature. But Baby Buddy does more than give information, it is also highly interactive. This means as well as sending regular messages with timely reminders, daily alerts and video advice, it also enables the parent to set goals, manage health appointments and find local groups and resources via a map. A phone app is a great way to reach out to younger mums, who as a group are among the highest users of smartphones. Younger mums may not always be accessing health services in the same way as older mums, so it provides a way to connect them to a resource that maintains regular contact and alerts.

When will it be ready to install on my phone?

Right now! Version 1.0 is available to install. Visit the web page now to install it. I would actively encourage everyone to download and use it. We are seeking feedback from parents and health and social care professionals ahead of the official launch in mid-November 2014 to make the app even better. When you install it you’ll be asked to give feedback in the app and you can also email us directly. We are particularly keen for multi-disciplinary healthcare professionals to understand its functionality and content, so they can recommend it to the families they support, and use it in appointments. When you register as a user, just choose the options that fit you best.  This way we can separate out feedback from parents and professionals. I really would be delighted to hear any suggestions anyone has for additional content for example new FAQs for the “Ask me” function via: Midwives may even want to rate it and write a review of it on Google Play or iTunes App Store. The more reviews there are for parents-to-be and new parents looking for help, the easier it is for them to decide if Baby Buddy is worth downloading. So if you’re readers, (after using the Baby Buddy app), want to take a few minutes to write a review that would be wonderful.

How are parents going to hear about the app?

Well, there are lots of ways and your readers can play a big part in this, if they wish!

1. Special posters and postcards are available to display in areas where pregnant and new mums visit, and they can be downloaded or ordered free of charge here!  Some areas are putting the leaflets in pregnancy booking appointment letters and other maternity services are working with us to develop ideas on integrating the app into local maternity and children’s care pathways.

2. We have a social media campaign building on Twitter using @babybuddyapp @BestBeginnings and @AlisonBaum and we are very keen for you to get involved. We are a growing ‘family’ and would love you to be part of it! See the video below…

3.  We are planning a press launch on November 19th 2014 – so please do join in the Twitter and Facebook chat, and let us know if you would like your local area to be part of the press launch. Email us at

Is the app complete?

No not at all, we are very much at the beginning of a multi-year journey.

We have an abundance of helpful content in the app, but we are constantly looking for more Questions and Answers for the “Ask Me” function and I am always keen for suggestions, all of which have to be endorsed by our team of experts before inclusion. We are also in the process of making more than 100 new films to go into the app which will include everything from young mothers preparing simple healthy meals, to mums at antenatal classes talking about what they get out of them, films about creating wellbeing plans, creating birth plans, films about active labour, about baby communication, spotting a sick child and much much more. We are actively recruiting young pregnant women and young mothers from across the country who are happy to be filmed during their pregnancy and/or their baby’s first months. We are also keen to recruit and film mothers with older children who experienced mild, moderate or severe mental health problems to tell their story retrospectively, with the purpose of raising awareness, destigmatising and informing app users about mental health and wellbeing.  For more information please see the dedicated webpage on our website. We’d be delighted to hear from healthcare professionals working with young parents or from parents themselves.

In addition to new content coming on board, we are also adding in new features to Baby Buddy. Within the next few weeks three long-awaited features will go “live”:

Bump Around/Baby Around: this new feature helps users of the Baby Buddy app to find local services and classes based on their locality, using a map. The aim of this feature is to use technology to increase social capital by supporting more young mothers to attend classes and use local services.

Bump Book/Baby Book: this new feature allows users to keep their own private diary with photos, thoughts and reflections. Users can, if they choose, share individual daily entries with friends and family and their wider network). In creating this feature we have created a reflective space within the app to support mind-mindedness and the emotional transition to parenthood. Our aim, in the future, is to create a way for users to easily make a hard-copy version of their Bump or Baby Book if they choose.

Text to voice: that users will be able to tap a button and their Buddy will speak her message to them

Here is a special message from me about how you can play a key role in this project and make a difference to babies’ lives in the UK. Thank you!

Here is a special message from me about how you can play a key role in this project and make a difference to babies’ lives in the UK. Together we can make a difference for future generations. Thank you! PS: If you want to find out more about the dad’s app I mention in my special message click here.

For my Four

10th August, 1989

10th August, 1989

Between the moment you were not and you were, I gasped.


The breath was the one before love struck. Like never before.


And into my arms each one of you came, and into my heart and my soul.


None more, nor less. All the very same.


It was then I really understood my own mother.


It’s just how it is.




 We will never walk on equal plains, you and I. Because this love isn’t reciprocal.


Not to be undermined, or misunderstood.


When you feel joy, my heart sings. Your frowns cause a crumble that can’t be controlled.


It’s just how it is.


And that’s why my step is not far from yours, even though I urge you to fly.



 It’s just how it is.



In one moment, I would give all up for you. 


In the end, I ask for nothing, but that you know.


It’s just how it is.

Family 2


For Anna, James, Tom and Oliva by Sheena Byrom


By sheenabyrom

What I think about birth centres: an interview


Laura Iannuzzi is an Italian midwife, currently studying for a PhD at Nottingham University in England.  After qualifying as a midwife in 2001 Laura has worked in different areas of practice, and since 2004 Laura has been employed by the University Hospital of Careggi, latterly at the Margherita Birth Centre.  Laura’s research topic for her study is ‘An exploration of midwives’ approaches to slow progress of labour in English and Italian birth centres‘.

Laura emailed me and asked if she could interview me about my thoughts on birth centres-not for her study, but because she is interested in the relative success of birth centres in England. I agreed of course, as I usually interview others!

Dear Sheena, first of all thank you very much for your availability for this interview. As you know, this is for me a great pleasure and honour; you are indeed largely recognised as an inspirational midwife inside and outside UK. And it is quite intuitive to see why, given your apparent innate ability to communicate the beauty of midwifery, to capture and amplify voices of women and midwives from all over the world, to show that change is actually possible wherever, and to support any initiative aimed to improve midwifery practice, education and research.

We could discuss about many things, but today I would like to talk with you about birth centres and their management, taking the most from your experience. You worked in fact as Head of Midwifery in the East Lancashire Trust where your played a key role in the establishment of the Blackburn Birth Centre, one of the most successful freestanding birth centres in England.

1. As someone might not be familiar with the language and the models, how would you define/describe a birth centre? What are the main features that differentiate a birth centre from other birth settings (e.g. hospital labour ward, maternity houses, home)?

Thank you Laura. What an introduction…I am flattered and grateful, yet as always I am taken aback….

It’s a pleasure to answer your questions!

Birth centres are places where women who have no expected complications can go to give birth, in a calm, non-medical environment, to be cared for by midwives and support workers. There are two types of birth centres, Alongside Birth Centres (AMU) are situated on the same site as an obstetric unit, and Freestanding Birth Centres (FMU) are in a separate building to a hospital, in a community setting. Birth centres should be managed by highly skilled midwives, who carefully monitor women in their care, and encourage and support them to give birth at their own pace, with minimal interference.

In an attempt to describe my thoughts on how birth centres differ to hospital (obstetric unit) birth facilities, I want to tell you about a period of my midwifery career. During the 1980’s I worked for 9 years in a ‘maternity home’, which was the same as a birth centre, except the woman’s GP (family doctor) came to the birth. The maternity home was several miles away from the host hospital, so was ‘freestanding’. Working there taught me how to be a midwife, in the truest sense of the word. I learned from experienced midwives and the women who laboured and gave birth there. There were no electronic fetal monitors, and so I became proficient in using my midwifery skills, my eyes, ears and intuition to give safe, high quality maternity care. I saw women labouring un-interrupted; it became second nature to me to support normal physiological childbirth, and to witness the immeasurable joy and satisfaction of parents as they met their baby for the first time. They did it themselves. We had a progressive manager (Pauline Quinn OBE) who introduced birth mats and birth stools (this was in the early 1980’s)…women rarely used the bed except for resting and sleeping. As I mentioned, this was early in my career, and whilst I had witnessed ‘normal’ birth previously, it was in a hospital setting where women laboured on their backs, on beds that resembled those in an operating theatre. Normal birth mostly happened by chance in the hospital, for example if the woman came in advanced labour or was multiparous, or as a result of the midwife’s strategy to protect the woman from the rigid policies and protocols of active management of labour (O’Driscoll and Meagher 1986). When I returned to the hospital to work after the maternity home closed, I saw that there had been a radical shift in the way women were being cared for. Epidural anaesthesia for pain relief had been introduced, and caring for semi-paralysed labouring women was new for me. I felt like a nurse again, in in a critical care environment. From that time (1990) until now, I have witnessed first hand the increasing medicalisation of childbirth, where pregnancy and birth are pathologised, and risk averse practice dominates. Fear prevails, both from the maternity care workers perspective, and women using the service. Yet maternal and fetal outcomes have not improved during that time, indeed, there is growing concern of potential iatrogenic harm as a result of unnecessary medical intervention (Dahlen et at 2013, Renfrew et al 2014). I must be clear at this stage, that some interventions in childbirth are crucial, and life saving. The task we have in maternity services is identifying those women who really need it, not treating every pregnant woman ‘just in case’.

So birth centres for me provide the space for women to give birth safely and with the least interference, and they act as a catalyst for change.

2. What does it mean that birth centres are midwife-led structures?

It means that midwives, experts of normal physiological childbirth, provide care for childbearing women who don’t have expected complications, in an environment that supports them to labour and birth undisturbed. The midwives should be appropriately skilled, and able to recognise any deviation from the normal and respond and refer appropriately. Safe transfer of care, where collaboration and respect is the prevailing culture within the reciprocal service, is crucial.

Baby Moira

Baby Moira with her beautiful Mama, Jill

3. Why should women and their partners consider a birth centre as place of birth for their baby?

The large study in England (Birthplace) revealed that birth centres are safe for mother and baby, and that giving birth in a non obstetric unit setting significantly and substantially reduces the chance of having an intrapartum caesarean section, instrumental delivery or episiotomy. These are crucial considerations, given the increasing Caesearian section (CS) rate, consequential potential iatrogenic damage, and financial costs. A recent Lancet paper (Renfrew et al 2014) cited a WHO study (Gibbons et al 2012) that estimated 6·2 million unnecessary Caesearean sections were being performed in middle and high-income countries. Avoiding unnecessary intervention in pregnancy and childbirth has been shown to lead to better outcomes for women, they have a quicker recovery and there is improved satisfaction (NCT, RCM, RCOG 2012). Women experiencing a normal birth are more likely to breastfeed, will require less postnatal care and are less likely to visit their doctor with postnatal complications.
Being afraid of childbirth is another important consideration (Ayers 2013), and documented reports of disrespect and abuse add to the picture (Birthrights 2013). However, women giving birth in midwife-led settings report feeling more satisfied with their birth experience, and that their birth positively influenced the way they felt about themselves (Birthrights 2013).

4. Do you think organisations should invest in birth centres? Why?

There is robust evidence that obstetric unit birth is not appropriate for women with low risk pregnancies. If women are more likely to have a normal physiological birth in a birth centre, and normal birth is a public health issue (Sandall 2004), then organisations should provide these settings for women with low risk pregnancies.

In addition, planned birth at home, in a freestanding midwifery unit, or in an alongside midwifery unit generates incremental cost savings compared with planned birth in an obstetric unit (Schroeder 2012). Further, occupancy rates for freestanding midwifery units (30%) were under half that of obstetric units (65%) and much lower than alongside units (57%).

5. As you probably know, while in Italy birth centres are still a rarity (it has been reported around 4-5 in the whole country) in UK there is an increasing presence of these models ( > 100). How would you explain this phenomenon? What factors contributed, in your opinion, to the onset and development of these midwifery models of care in your country?

Intuitively and anecdotally, midwives have always known that out of hospital birth is safe, and more satisfying for mothers, families and midwives. Because of this, midwifery innovators and leaders have striven to establish birth centres, and to promote and support home birth. The difference now is that we have strong, clear evidence to back up the knowledge.

Globally, maternity care workers and politicians are becoming increasingly aware of the human and financial costs associated with the escalating unnecessary intervention in childbirth in high and middle-income countries (Renfrew et al 2014). Because this can be addressed by providing midwife led settings for women to give birth, the draft Intrapartum Care NICE Guidance (2014) is advising low-risk nulliparous and multiparous women to plan to give birth in a midwifery-led unit (freestanding or alongside) as the rate of medical intervention is lower and the outcome for the baby is no different compared with an obstetric unit.

Maternity care leaders also considered midwifery skills. If midwives only work in obstetric led settings, with increasing unnecessary intervention rates, the skill and expertise needed to facilitate normal physiological childbirth become diluted. This compounds the already potentially catastrophic consequences of unnecessary intervention in childbirth (Dahlen 2013).
To demonstrate the reality of this phenomena, here is an exert from a letter recently sent by a student midwife in England, to the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), raising concerns about her lack of exposure to normal childbirth:
[I became very disheartened and concerned about my own experiences. As a student midwife, I completed my second year of training after having witnessed and participated in 52 caesarean sections, 16 instrumental deliveries and very sadly, only 11 normal deliveries. I can vouch for the fact this story is not unique and many students are having a chronic lack of exposure to normality. In fact what the ICM (International Confederation of Midwives) and RCM seemed to call ‘normal’, to me seemed like a fantasy, not the world in which I was training and learning. I was saddened to realise that I’m now a third year student and have never used intermittent auscultation in practice and have never seen a women give birth off her back].

I believe this is unacceptable.

6. It is a common belief, especially among those who would not advocate for birth centres, that these models are too expensive (and we know that none can ignore the global financial crisis) and provide care just to ‘small privileged groups of women’ compared to traditional hospital models. What is your opinion and experience about that?

The Birthplace study mentioned above provides evidence that centre birth is less expensive than obstetric unit birth, taking all aspects of the care of mother and baby into consideration. In East Lancashire in northern England, 30% of women give birth in a birth centre, and those women are from culturally and socially diverse communities. We cannot ignore the evidence we have of potential harm if we do not provide these services; nor the emerging evidence (Dahlen et al 2013). The issue of women using  birth centre facilities if available is an important one. Pathways of care must support women making a decision to give birth in a birth centre, with midwives who work in them providing the information. I know this is one of the reasons why the birth centres at East Lancashire Hospitals mentioned above are so successful. 

7. Given the international problem of the shortage of midwives, denounced by many organisations including the International Confederation of Midwives, it seems important both to lobby for more midwives for women and families, and to use the current resources at their best. In this situation, directors and managers might prefer to ‘centralise’ midwives in big labour wards rather than encourage their employment in new/different units… Did you come across this kind of debate? Do you think there is a room for birth centres in time of crisis? Why?

Yes, since the 1950/60s there has been the desire to centralize maternity care into hospital in the UK, and more recently reconfigurations of maternity services has seen the amalgamation of smaller maternity services into larger, centralized units. However, national policy drivers (DoH 2007) directed services to offer the choice of midwife led facilities, and the response has been positive with an increase in the number midwife led establishments (see BirthChoice UK chart below).

Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 17.19.03

Other countries such as Catalonia are paying attention to the importance of childbirth as a measure of societal health, and to prioritise midwife led care, and choice (Escuriet & Oritz 2014).

The Birthplace Study is clear that it is less expensive for low risk women to give birth in a birth centre, which included the number of midwives needed to care for them. In fact, given the evidence of increased unnecessary intervention for low risk women giving birth in hospital, there are financial considerations for this. The model of midwifery care in all settings needs to be flexible and responsive to the need of the service, and there is no ‘one size fits all’. However, the general principle that the midwives ‘follow’ the women, i.e. they are able to work in all settings, helps with workforce planning and promotes safety.

8. Always connected to the shortage of midwives, anecdotally, some organisations seem to assume that as midwifery-led units are caring about low-risk women, there is less need for midwives than in obstetric units. What or who establishes the number of midwives needed in a setting? What are the criteria you used or you would suggest to calculate, even within a limited number of midwives, the minimum acceptable staffing especially thinking about birth centres?

I asked the Head of Midwifery, Anita Fleming, from East Lancs Hospitals NHS Trust in England (mentioned above) to help with this question, and her service provides 3 birth centres with 30% of women giving birth in the facilities. Anita said:

[Birthrate Plus (Ball et al 2013) provides guidance for midwifery staffing; it is advantageous to calculate the numbers of midwives needed for your service overall and not necessarily how those midwives are allocated to each area. Professional judgment is essential, and will depend on several things such as number of birth rooms and also on what other activity goes on there, in addition to birth. There needs to be enough staff to provide one to one care in labour and to retain safe numbers if a midwife goes on a transfer.  We have a lot of other activity in our BC’s (checks, clinics, immunisations etc) to make best use of the midwives time when unit quiet; it isn’t appropriate for midwives to be sitting round waiting for women in labour. NICE is currently developing guidance staffing guidance for maternity settings which should be out for consultation in October / November this year, prior to publication of the final guidance in January 2015].

9. What are the current features you think should be reduced and which increased in order to improve maternity care?

I am quite clear about this Laura. I think today’s maternity care systems are focusing so much on preventing risk, that they are blindly increasing it (Dahlen 2014). I believe we should try to reduce the ‘tick box’ culture, which focuses on ‘it’s done’, rather than trying to give individualised care based on building compassionate and trusted relationships both with women in our care, and all members of the maternity team. We are processing women through a strangled system, all the time being reminded to ‘protect ourselves’ against litigation and recrimination. This leads to fear and defensive practice that potentially increases serious harm. Governments and maternity care providers should examine the evidence and respond appropriately, and assess their maternity service on the global Framework for Quality Maternal and Newborn Care [see below] (Renfrew et al 2014). Leaders must also remember that where resources are limited, unnecessary medical intervention is more expensive, and financial costs unsustainable.
What is more important than the birth of a baby?

Screen Shot 2014-07-04 at 16.51.51

10. As you know, midwifery-led care and midwifery-led models where midwives work autonomously are highly supported by evidence but may be poorly supported in the reality of daily practice. I have in mind many realities in Italy where brilliant midwives are struggling with a highly-medicalised culture, but this seems to be true also in other more midwife-friendly environments, such as the English one. What are the facilitators and what the barriers to translate evidence?

In believe the key to the success of midwifery led models is for midwives work collaboratively with medical and academic colleagues, and to build trusted relationships. This approach, where possible, reduces the polarisation of models of care, where no-one benefits, least of all the woman and family using maternity services. For this to happen, all parties have to be willing to understand the part that they play in ensuring safe maternity care, and to respect and appreciate each other’s roles and philosophies.

11. Would you like to send a message to all the Italian midwives, especially to the ones that are currently struggling in seeing positive signs for the future of midwifery?

The maternity service where I worked has recently been awarded Maternity Service of the Year, by the Royal College of Midwives. Within the service there are 3 birth centres and an obstetric unit, and 6,500 babies are born each year. It wasn’t always like this. I remember times when we felt desperate-the climate was oppressive and hierarchical, and there was little hope for a positive future. A few of us were strong. We had passion and believed in woman centred care. We engaged academic colleagues who helped us to find and articulate the evidence, and were determined to change. The strength of leadership was changeable, so we tried to lead ourselves, and it worked. This took many years, it didn’t happen over-night, and there were many disappointments!

Remember the change needs to start with you-don’t wait for others to do it.



Laura Iannuzzi can be found on Twitter

References (unlinked)

Ayers, S. (2013). Fear of childbirth, postnatal post-traumatic stress disorder and midwifery care. Midwifery 30:2 Feb pg 145-8

Dahlen H (2014) Managing risk, or facilitating safety? International Journal of Childbirth Vol 4, Iss 2

Department of Health (2007) Maternity matters: choice, access and continuity of care in a safe service. DoH London

O’Driscoll K, Meagher D (1986) Active Management 2nd Ed. London: Bailliere Tindall

Sandall J (2004) Normal birth: a public health issue Practising Midwife Jan 7 (1) Pp 4-5

Additional reading:

Coxon K (2013) Freestanding Midwifery Units: local, high quality maternity care RCM publication

By sheenabyrom

The Lancet Midwifery Series: by a ‘Midwife’s Midwife’

At the end of June, and amidst a flurry of excitement and extensive publicity,  the much awaited Lancet Midwifery Series was launched.   The Series, produced by an international group of academics, clinicians, professional midwives, policymakers and advocates for women and children, is the most critical, wide-reaching examination of midwifery ever conducted. The papers systematically summarise the current global picture of maternal and infant health, and provide a framework for policy makers and maternity providers to maximise potential for improvement.


Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 18.13.42

The Series also highlight key issues on the role of midwifery in the world today, and challenge much of the current thinking and attitudes about it among health professionals and decision makers.

For me, the papers have given us the additional tools to enable and strengthen the drive to lobby for change. The paradox of lack of timely and coordinated life saving interventions in some countries, and over-use of the same interventions in others, needs to end.

Dutch Midwife Petra ten Hoope-Bender , who works as the Director for Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn and Child Health at the Instituto de Cooperación Social INTEGRARE (ICSI) in Barcelona, Spain, co-ordinated The Lancet’s Series on Midwifery. I was recently connected to Petra, via Soo Downe, and after reading about her here, felt it would be great to ask her about her role, and about what she hopes her work will achieve.



Hi Petra, thank you for so willingly agreeing to be interviewed for my blog. I know how busy you are! I think many individuals will be very interested to hear about the role you played the development and co-ordination of The Lancet Series on Midwifery, recently published.  Would you introduce yourself please, including a little about your professional background?

I’m a midwife by trade and held an independent midwifery practice in Rotterdam for 12 years before moving into the area of international health. I started as Secretary General of the International Confederation of Midwives in 1998 and later I moved to Geneva to start the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health.

Could you explain briefly what the papers are, why and how they were developed?

The idea for a series on midwifery started during the development of the State of the World’s Midwifery 2011 report, when the author team realised there were many gaps in evidence about midwifery that urgently needed filling. They approached Zoe Mullan and Richard Horton of The Lancet to find out whether they would be interested in publishing this and received a positive response. There were many topics suggested for inclusion in the series, but after several discussions the content settled down around the four topics we have now. These include an evidence base for quality maternal and newborn care from the perspective of women and newborns that expands the notion of what needs to be provided to how and by whom. It sets out an evidence based definition for midwifery and measures the impact of the lives that can be saved by the midwife working to her full competence and scope of practice. The series also identifies the steps that some countries have successfully taken to deploy midwives and thus reduce their maternal and newborn mortality and finally provides an international policy brief that calls for effective coverage (coverage + quality) of midwifery care and shows how this can contribute to the achievement of international targets and initiatives.

What was the extent of your involvement?

I was the coordinator of the series as well as the lead author on ‘ The improvement of maternal and newborn health through midwifery’. I was also a co-author on two of the other papers in the series.

If midwives or maternity care workers want to influence political agendas using the series, what advice could you offer them?

The first step would be to lay their maternity services against the Framework for Quality Maternal and Newborn Care to see where the differences are and then identify what the most important issues are in their services that they would like to change.

Screen Shot 2014-07-04 at 16.51.51

Framework for Quality Maternal and Newborn Care



These can be changes in the midwifery curriculum, or in the way the profession is regulated, but they can also be about service delivery and how the care providers are enabled to provide respectful care that optimises normal processes and strengthens women’s capabilities to take care of themselves and their families.

What impact do you hope the papers will have? Has there been any influence so far?

The series has already gathered a lot of support and positive responses. We have started a website called Solution98 where we explain for the general public, what the series means and what they can do to support the provision of such quality services in their health system and facilities. There have already been quite a lot of requests for support and even accreditation of facilities to this new standard of care. What I hope most for the future is that women will understand what we’re talking about and start demanding this kind of care for themselves and their families, friends, colleagues. Without the voices of women, the effort to improve maternal and newborn care will remain in the realm of the health care providers and will not be half as effective.

What are your plans for the future Petra?
In the near future we’re working towards inclusion of the messages and the framework from the series on midwifery, to be taken up and linked with the work on reducing maternal and newborn mortality world wide that is currently being pushed by the UN and its partners in large initiatives such as the Every Newborn Action Plan, Ending Preventable Maternal Mortality and the discussions about the post 2015 sustainable development agenda. But this series is not written for low and middle income countries only. It is as important for high income countries where overmedicalisation threatens normal pregnancy and childbirth and where midwifery is under pressure.


Petra, this work gives us hope for the future, and is a pivotal element of the momentum for radical change. Women and their children will benefit as a result of the recommendations, when they are appreciated and implemented. Women and families, together with midwives and all maternity care workers around the world are thankful for the expertise, time and energy you and your esteemed colleagues have given to addressing the issues that they see, hear, feel and suffer from on a daily basis.

And now we must speak out.

Petra’s email address is:

Find Petra on Twitter at: @Ptenh



‘Keep fear out of the birth room’: an interview with Professor Hannah Dahlen

When I first heard Hannah Dahlen speak, it was in Grange-over-Sands, England, at the Normal Birth conference. Hannah gave a talk on the ‘Juggernaught of Intervention’, describing the potential consequences of unnecessary medical intervention in childbirth,  and  I was hooked. Each of Hannah’s words rang true to me, I was, and still am, concerned about the ever increasing focus on ‘risk’ in maternity services, and the impact this is having on childbearing women and those caring for them.    Since then I have followed Hannah’s brilliant work, via academic publications, with enormous interest. After the success of interviewing Prof Soo Downe OBE and Dr Helen Ball, I asked Hannah if she would be willing to participate too. I am thrilled that she said yes!

Hello (or G’day!) Hannah! Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed… could you introduce yourself, please?



Hi Sheena, my name is Hannah Dahlen and I have been a midwife for nearly 25 years. I am currently the Professor of Midwifery at the University of Western Sydney, which is in NSW, Australia. I am also a practising midwife and I work with five other lovely midwives (Robyn, Jane, Janine, Emma and Mel) in the largest private group practice in NSW, called Midwives@Sydney and Beyond. I provide continuity of care for women throughout pregnancy, labour and birth and for six weeks following the birth. Around 90% of our women give birth at home. I am also the national media spokesperson for the Australian College of Midwives, which means I can be woken up as early as 5am to tiptoe through political landmines as I try and represent midwives in the best possible light. Once I did a radio interview at 4am and had a very funny time talking to truckies about birth, as apparently they are the only ones awake at that time. I am also on the executive committee of the NSW branch of the Australian College of Midwives and I have held this position for 17 years.

When did you realise you wanted to be a midwife? 

I don’t remember realising that I wanted to be a midwife because I can’t remember ever wanting to be anything else. My mum was a midwife and I grew up Yemen, where I was also born. My earliest memories were being cordoned off in a playpen in the corner of the clinic with a kidney dish and tongue depressor to play with as my mum worked. I also remember being sat on a tin in a backpack so I could see the countryside as mum and dad trekked into the villages to vaccinate people. Because I was so blond and fair skinned and had vivid blue eyes the Yemeni people found me fascinating and my hair was always being pulled to see if it was attached to my head. When I squawked in protest they concluded I must be a wizened up old woman with white hair. But of course there was a moment that I knew without a doubt the kind of midwife I would be when I was 12 years of age. My next door neighbour gave birth to her third child and I helped the local midwife catch the baby. When my neighbour saw it was another girl she turned her head away and said , ‘take it away.’ She feared that her husband would divorce her or take a second wife as she had not produced the much valued son yet. I remember carrying this perfect little girl, which they named Hannah after me, to the window as the dawn was breaking and the minarets began their melodic calls to prayer. I remember as girl on the brink of womanhood feeling both spellbound by the miracle I had witnessed and outraged that girls should have less value than boys. I knew then that you could not be a midwife without fighting for women’s rights and that was when I think the political passion I consider inextricable from the job of midwifery was born. I believe if you are apathetic about women’s rights then you are not cut out to be a midwife and if you are frightened to be political then choose another career.


What does a typical day in your working life look like?

Gosh, I have no typical day, as that sounds too much like the definition of boredom. My life is often very eclectic and unpredictable. I get to work about 9am after putting my youngest daughter on the school bus and then I might be doing several things, such as teaching, undertaking research, going to meetings, answering telephone calls from journalists or the women I care for. I have lots of wonderful PhD, Masters and Honours students who give me such delight, as I love growing the future of our profession, and they are indeed the future. I might end my day with a postnatal or antenatal visit in a woman’s home, and if I get called to a birth it is usually at night. I have only had to get someone to fill in for me once in the past four years of being on call because a woman gave birth when I had a lecture on. Once back home I do what all mothers do: get the dinner on, nag about homework, listen to stories of the day and hopefully collapse on the lounge to watch Call the Midwife with my daughters, or Modern Family, which is another favourite.


I am a great advocate of your work on how the ‘risk agenda’ is influencing maternity care. Can you tell us why this is so important to you?

Fear is ruining birth and we have to stop the fear. When I am asked what I do as a midwife I say my job is to keep fear out of the room. I knit at birth now and work very hard to keep fear at bay in my own practice. I left the hospital system after 20 years of practice because I recognised I had become undone by the fear that was manufactured around me and I was no longer providing women with the best care. Now that I work in private practice and out of the system, supporting women mostly to give birth at home, I have re-found my faith in birth and realise it is not birth that is dangerous, it is us! I love working with midwives on how to put risk in perspective and manage the fear that is so endemic in our maternity systems. We need to make friends with fear and work out when it is protecting us and when it is destroying us. We also need to stop blaming women for their fear as I think the models of care, attitudes and language of health professionals are most to blame. I love watching women give birth without fear now, surrounded by love and trust. Women are so amazing and we are so lucky to share this magic journey with them and their partners and families.


We have a situation where maternity services are focused on risk reduction, and yet outcomes aren’t improving. What do you think the answer is?   

Get women and midwives out of the hospital. Move back to primary health care, community based models. Give every woman a known midwife and make relationship based care the priority. I often say to my students the largest organ involved in childbirth is the brain not the uterus. If you want the uterus to function well then start working with the brain. Value women and value birth. Base practice on evidence and make health services accountable to the evidence and provide cost effective care. In Australia we have been calling for private obstetricians to make their caesarean rates public so women know when they are cared for by a doctor with a 90% caesarean section rate. In my country I think this would have a big impact on our caesarean section rate which is nearly double in the private sector. Lastly, and most importantly, if women are to trust in themselves and birth then surely those caring for them need to trust in women and birth.


What other areas of maternity care are you interested in?

Just about everything, this is my problem. My mother always said the worst thing you can do with Hannah is make her bored. I can promise you one thing there is nothing about being a midwife that is boring. I say my job is perfect because I combine teaching, research, clinical practice and politics together. I would hate not to believe in what I do and I really, really do believe in the amazing job midwives do. I would love to see my colleagues hold their heads up high and say ‘I have the most amazing job in the world’, after all we usher in the future! I really love history as well, as I am convinced that the past has much to teach us and some really good midwifery practices happened in the past. This is why I chose to undertake a randomised controlled trial looking at the effect of perineal warm packs in second stage for my PhD, as it was branded an ‘old wives tale’ with no evidence to support it. This so called ‘old wives tale’ is now Level 1 evidence. It does give me a thrill that amidst all the ‘machines that go ping’ a midwife can hold her head high as she walks down the corridor with a bowl of steaming water and flannel to give a woman in second stage comfort. I am also very interested in how birth is shaping society and founded the group EPIIC (Epigenetic impact of Childbirth) with Professors Soo Downe (UCLAN) and Holly Powell Kenney (Yale) in 2011. I think this is where we need to really channel our energy in the future. If the way we are born is re-shaping society, which is increasingly looking likely, then we need to urgently get the message out before it is too late.

What are your plans for the future Hannah?

I never think about the future and I never really have. I never thought I would do a PhD – I kind of fell into that. I never thought I would be a professor and that just seemed to happen. I believe in doing what I love and believing in what I do and whatever eventuates usually is a good thing. But most important of all you sleep well at night when you adhere to this philosophy – that is if the phone doesn’t ring to call you to a birth of course. Best of all I can honestly say I have no regrets. Every part of my life, even the sorrows and mistakes have made me who I am and provided me with such valuable lessons.


And lastly, what inspires and motivates you to be proactive what you do?

Women’s rights motivate me and making the world a better place.   None of us should come into this world and leave again without making the world a better place. Until we do right by women and recognise, value and facilitate their amazing role in society then everything we do will be incomplete. The hand that rocks the cradle does rule the world whether the world is willing to acknowledge it or not. When every girl baby is born into the arms of parents who want her as much as they want their sons then we will be on the way to bright and certain future. In many ways I feel today that I am still that 12 year old girl standing by the window in the dawn light gazing at that perfect little girl, spellbound and outraged but always full of hope that we are on the way to a brighter future.


Hannah, thank you SO much for taking time to tell us more about yourself! It’s such an honour having your input into my blog….I am thrilled!


You can follow Hannah on Twitter:  @hannahdahlen


And her website:


Photograph by Holly Priddis


How do health professionals use social media?



In preparation for an article I am writing for a midwifery journal, I decided to conduct a short survey to ascertain why health care workers use social media in a professional capacity.  The survey ran from 10/4/14 until 27/4/14, and was disseminated via Twitter and Facebook.

321 individuals responded, and the brief results are outlined below. The full article will be published in June edition of MIDIRS as the Hot Topic, authors Sheena Byrom and Anna Byrom

The questions asked were:

1. Do you use social media for professional reasons?

Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 20.00.09

2. Please indicate your profession

Diagram 1

3. In what country do you currently reside in?

Respondents were from Australia, Brazil, Canada, England, Ireland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Spain, Switzerland, USA, UK, Wales.

4. Which social media network do you prefer?

Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 20.07.04

5. How often to you log into social networks?

Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 20.08.21

6. If Facebook is your preferred network, what are the benefits to your professional role?

These included widely used, networking, sharing, support, with a significant amount using private communication through closed groups. Even though the question wasn’t asked, several respondents mentioned the fear of  recrimination.

‘Posting information to my audience, getting them involved by comments. They get to know me and recommendations come from being known’ Participant 2

7. If Twitter is your preferred network, what are the benefits to your professional role?

Benefits included fast responses, more professional than Facebook, access to wide network of individuals and groups,  connecting with other professionals, flattened hierarchy (access to leading professionals), support, sharing, global contacts, easy to use.

‘Enables conversation – debate – information and knowledge exchange- encourages active student engagement – modelling professionalism – relationship building and networking’ Participant 161

8. Please rank the benefits of your social media use


Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 20.09.56

9. Please give examples of how social media has helped you in your professional role.

The responses further elaborated on the above factors,

‘Connecting with health professional who have enabled me to reflect and learn Increasing my professionalism Enabling me to have a voice and communicate my value’ Participant 98

‘It helped launching CenteringPregnancy in the Netherlands! Connections with obstetrians outside my area. Enlarged my view on midwives, emancipation, women, public health etc’ Participant 107


I would like to sincerely thank all those who participated in the survey.

Help to connect more midwives around the world (and be a ‘Twitter Buddy!’)


With the International Day of the Midwife imminent, and the countdown to the International Confederation of Midwives 30th Triennial Congress (ICM) from 1-5th June, I want to try to engage with midwives around the world, to encourage and support them to connect through Twitter. I started ‘tweeting’ approximately 18 months ago, and I haven’t looked back. Here’s a glimpse of what Twitter does for me.


Nurses and midwives are generally reluctant to use Twitter. Not Facebook, just Twitter. Yet those using it can’t imagine life without it-Twitter has opened so many doors for them, and offered oodles of support. @WeNurses founder and social media expert Teresa Chinn @AgencyNurse is also a registered nurse, and offers thoughts on her blog why nurses and midwives SHOULD engage with Twitter , and some of the reasons why they don’t!  If you are worried about using social media professionally, then listen to this podcast by Dean Royles @NHSE_Dean  CEO of NHS Employers, as he slays some of the myths.


Infographic with kind permission from   @AgencyNurse

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO JOIN TWITTER, JOIN UP HERE. If you are going to ICM in June, and considering using Twitter, please do so BEFORE you leave home. It will be much easier! If you are a health organisation, and you would like to know more about using Facebook or Twitter, check out Social Media toolkit for the NHS. I have facilitated a midwives chat space for 12 months…@WeMidwives (part of @WeNurses) has gone from zero to 3,133 followers, many from around the world. And now it’s time to really try and engage with more! SO….. Would you be a Twitter Buddy? At the ICM I am charged with sharing the event’s highlights through Twitter and other social media platforms, and I will be producing Storify updates each day. I will also be delivering workshops on using social media, but this won’t include ‘how to’. For that, I need ‘Twitter Buddies”. Twitter Buddy If you are going to ICM in person or joining LIVE online streaming, or you are planning to tweet during ICM using #ICMLIVE then read on! I am building a team of  midwife and student midwifeTwitter Buddies‘ on the recommendation of social media expert @VictoriaBetton.  If you would like to help spread the advantages of Twitter by sharing your skill with least one other person during ICM week (1-5th June), then I’d love you to be part of the project! Here is the simple plan:

  1. If you want to be a Twitter Buddy let me know, via Twitter, using #TwitterBuddy. I’ll then add your name below!
  2. During ICM week connect and sit with an interested midwife colleague, and show her/him how to use Twitter on a 121 basis. Aim for at least one midwife recruit per day!
  3. Tweet me the Twitter handles of the new midwife Tweeters, and at the end of the week the results will be collated.
  4. The Twitter Buddy who launches the most midwives on a new Twitter journey will be announced the week after the conference!
  5. Direct your Twitter recruit to this blog post for encouragement.

ANOTHER REMINDER IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO JOIN TWITTER, JOIN UP HERE.  If you are going to ICM in June, and considering using Twitter, please do so BEFORE you leave home. It will be much easier!  COME AND JOIN IN THE CONVERSATION And HOT OFF THE PRESS, my daughter Anna Byrom and I have written our first article together. It’s about social media, so you may find it interesting! Here it is


  1. Anna Byrom @acbmidwife  
  2. Shawn Walker @SisterShawnRM
  3. Simone Valk @sljvalk 
  4. @linsyrjls
  5. @llisa01
  6. Jane Morrow @MorrowJane
  7. Cassie McNamara @MamaConference
  8. Carmel McCalmont @UHCW_Midwife
  9. Jenny Clarke @JennyTheM
  10. Nalonya vd Laan @nalonya
  11. Sarah Johnson @sarahjohnson222
  12. Elly Copp @EleanorCopp
  13. Tracey Cooper @drtraceyt
  14. Amanda Firth @LaughingMrsM
  15. Heather Franklin @Twidmife
  16. Midwife Supervision @midwiferyWAHT 
  17. Lola the E-Midwife Lola_emidwife
  18. Carolyn Hastie @CarolynHastie 
  19. Sara Bayes @SaraBayes
  20. Alison Brodrick @AliBrodrick
  21. Lizzie Bee @Li33ieBee 
  22. Pam Wild @pamoneuk 
  23. @Dashing_d_leo
  24. Claire Fryer-Croxall @ClaireCroxall
  25. Hana Ruth Abel @Hana_Studentmid 
  26. Ali Searle @alisearle 
  27. Karen Yates @karenyatesjcu
  28. Lyn Ward @linward
  29. Nicky @twixynicky1
  30. Anita Fleming @AnitaFleming7
  31. Lorna @berrybird71
  32. Trudy Brock @TrudyBrock1
  33. Geraldine Butcher @gbutcher17
  34. NHS Midwife @midwife_foz
  35. Anjuli Lord @anjulilord
  36. Linda Wylie @uwslindawylie
  37. Janet Fyle @consideredview
  38. Joanne Camac @CamacJoanne  
  39. Jane @Midwife2b0514
  40. Claire Omand @clarabell080
  41. Mary Stewart @midwife_mary
  42. Francesca @Francesca343
  43. Hannah Bowater @funking-nora 
  44. Sarah Johnson @sarahjohnson222
  45. Kathryn Ashton @KathrynAshton1
  46. Birthing Instincts @birthinstincts
  47. Dawn Gilkes  @dawnmidwife 
  48. Debby Gould @DebbyGould
  49. Sarah @sarah_pallett
  50. Laura Fyall @LauraFyall
  51. Tracey Hunter (need link)
  52. Alison Taylor (need link)
  53. Elsie b @LesleyBland
  54. Alison Power @alisonpower31
  55. Aku Bidan, Kamu? @BidanBidanku
  56. Linda Ball @BallLinn
  57. MaggieMoo @MaggieBakesBuns
  58. Mhairi @Stmwmhairi
  59. Kate @Dottymom
  60. Jude @beetrooter
  61. Kylie @smileyhudders
  62. Lillian Bondo @LillianBondo
  63. Mitra Kadarish @mee_tra
  64. Annabel Nicholas @annienicholas68
  65. Jenny Clarke @JennyTheM
  66. Jacque Gerrard @JacqueGRCM
  67. Kelly Stadelbaur @KellyStadelbaur
  68. Brigid McConville @Brigid_McC
  69. Natalie Buschman @Birthsandmore
  70. Jayne Case @jaynecase8
  71. Sarah Stewart @SarahStewart
  72. Beth McRae @outbackmidwife1 
  73. M. Michel-Schuldt @emma_von_mumm
  74. Vanessa Shand @vshand 
  75. Julie Wray @JuWray 
  76. Hari Ani @hunnyhunnymuch
  77. Soffa Abdillah @soffa_abdillah
  78. Fardila Elba @elba_cholia
  79. Kerry Spencer @miffymoffit
  80. Macavity @elusivesarah
  81. Marjolein Gravendeel @MGravendeel 
  82. Wendy Warrington @wendywarringto1
  83. Nicolette Peel @NicolettePeel 
  84. Hannah Harvey @hannahharv13
  85. Helen Young @helenyoungmw
  86. Ashleigh @ashleey_latham
  87. Linda Bryceland @LyndaBryceland
  88. Claire Macdiarmid @Mcdaddymacswife 
  89. Janie @janiealalawi 
  90. Sophie @sophieinpariss
  91. Leigh @Leighree
  92. Laura Williams @Laura4_x
  93. NHS Midwife @NHSmidwife
  94. Maria Anderson @MariaAnderson17
  95. Louise Randall @LouiseAJRandall 
  96. Mary Ross-Davie @MaryRossDavie
  97. Ans Luyben @luybenans
  98. Roa @Roretta 
  99. Inisial Z @zidemanjaya 
  100. Jupuut @juliaputriutami 
  101. Berty @me_b3rty 
  102. Mel @Mel_meilina
  103. Qorin @QorinDias
  104. Yennita Maharani @nypinyip
  105. Michelle Anderson @michellemidirs
  106. Cathy Ashwin @CathyAshwin 
  107. Jane Pilston @janepilston 
  108. Kookie Salt @kookie31
  109. Joanna Lake @JoLake87
  110. Hannah Telford @TelfordHannah
  111. Mahasiswa Kebidanan @Mahasiswa_Bidan
  112. Sisilh @Hilmasilsil
  113. Indira A U_tami @indie_utami
  114. Ikka Zullianti @ikkazz
  115. Nuy @stnurjanah08
By sheenabyrom

Obstetric violence and humanized birth in Brazil

Student Midwife Oli Armshaw @olvinda has written another post for my blog. With others, we have been corresponding by email over the past few days, following the horrific revelation below.


Adelir Carmen Lemos de Goés, with her daughter after the forced caesarean

Adelir Carmen Lemos de Goés, with her daughter after the forced caesarean


With sadness and horror I read about Adelir Carmen Lemos de Goés, a 29 year old pregnant woman, in Torres, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, being forced by the authorities to have a caesarean, on 1 April.

On 31 March, she had a scan and was examined by a doctor, who said she needed an immediate caesarean as she had already had two previous caesareans, the baby was breech and her pregnancy was 42 weeks.

Adelir, saying she would prefer a VBAC (vaginal birth after caesarean) in the hospital -although there was no staff to support her choice, signed a document taking responsibility for her decision and went home to await labour, with her doula, Stephany Hendz. In the middle of the night, when Adelir was already in established labour, armed police and medical personnel arrived in two military police cars and an ambulance, to force her to Hospital Nossa Senhora dos Navegantes, for a caesarean. In the name of risk to the unborn baby, the doctor had asked judge Liniane Maria Mog da Silva, to issue an injunction to bring her in for caesarean section. She was submitted to surgery by force, against her will. Yesterday, the result of her ultrasound scan circulated on Facebook, showing a gestational age of 40 weeks.


Brazil’s major press, including Globo G1, reported the story on 2April, which you can see here and also translated here.   According to Adelir, “Two military police cars came and an ambulance to take us from our house. I was very anxious. I was all but handcuffed,” she said, alleging verbal abuse by police.

Here, you can see Adelir speaking about the terrifying experience of police arriving at her house when she was in established labour, contracting every 5 minutes, and being forced to hospital for surgery. You don’t need to understand Portuguese to see how she feels.

The response in Brazil has been mixed: Most Brazilians do not sympathize with Adelir, the outraged birth activists or the ‘crazy feminists’, who support a mother’s right to make her own choices about birth and risk. But there is a strong, groundswell movement for the humanization of birth, fronted by ReHuNa (League for the Humanization of Childbirth), which considers this brutal incident to be an unacceptable breach of human rights, and is demanding that the Justice Department take action to address it. Peaceful protest demonstrations are being staged on 11 April in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Torres, Belem and across the world at all Brazilian embassies. The UK embassy of Brazil is at 16 Cockspur St, London SW1Y 5BL. For more information please visit:


Birth activists have started a petition on Avaaz, which you can sign here, to oppose the infringement on civil liberty, and extreme technical incompetence of doctors and government. They claim the incident not only breaches the Code of Medical Ethics, but goes against basic evidence: “Labour is a safe and appropriate choice for most women who have had one or more previous caesareans” and “pelvic planned vaginal delivery of breech babies may be reasonable under the guidelines of hospital protocols.” (ACOG Bulletin for clinical practice No. 115, 2010). You can read a full translation of the Avaaz petition here.

A formal complaint has been lodged at the Secretariat of Justice and Human Rights of the Presidency of the Republic by Artemis, a Brazilian NGO promoting women’s autonomy and the prevention and eradication of all forms of violence against women. Here, you can see their letters on Ligia Moreiras Sena’s blog. @birthrightsorg have responded with this excellent blog on obstetric violence and use of ‘risk’ to legally justify treating women’s bodies “as public objects subject to the whims of the medical profession backed by the coercive power of the state” (Birthrights, 2014). Read also @KathiValeii’s powerful and passionate blog, ‘The war on women just got bloody brutal’ at Birthanarchy.

As Daphne Rattner, president of ReHuNa points out, this incident has occurred in the week that Brazilians are counting fifty years since the military coup d’etat in 1964, making it all the more grimly poignant that armed police were involved in forcing Adelir to hospital for unwanted surgery. It has Brazilians wondering who will be next to be dragged away by police, and if Adelir or her husband, Emerson, had resisted or reacted, would they have been shot?

Thanks to The Iolanthe Midwifery Trust, I’m going to Brazil for an elective midwifery placement at Hopsital Sofia Feldman, a beacon for the humanized model of care in Brazil, and attend the 9th Normal Labour and Birth Conference. It’s going to be an incredible journey back to Brazil, the country I adore. I anticipate learning a lot from the brilliant midwives there, who are committed to supporting women to birth their babies where, how, with whom, and when they want; and fighting for an end to obstetric violence of all kinds.

“Humanized Birth”, as Elis Almeida puts it so powerfully in her blog Parto Humanizado no SUS, (translated here) “contrary to what most people think, is not background music and/or low light at birth, but a set of actions aimed at a satisfying birth experience, in which the woman and the baby are the protagonists, where attention and care are fully focused on the mother and baby dyad, and not on the doctor and institution”. A bill was passed by the government on 25 September 2013 legislating for humanized conditions at birth, but ‘what’, asks Almeida, ‘is the point of having a law if it is not supported and enforced by existing policies and practices?’

I trust that Adelir’s case will mark a turning point, a pivotal moment in the ongoing fight against obstetric violence, and catalyse lucidity and urgent action to humanize childbirth in Brazil.


Oli Armshaw @olvinda, April 2014 #NOobstetricviolence





Oli Armshaw @olvinda, April 2014


C/S Photo source

Born to Safe Hands: with a few battle cries


Two exceptional midwives from Bolton, in NW England, decided to plan a conference after being inspired whilst attending MAMA conference in 2013. Joanne Camac and Annabel Nicholas wanted to hold an event to celebrate birth centres, and chose the name ‘Born to Safe Hands’  from their family experience/visitors book.  Jo told me ‘a lovely family that Annabel and I looked after wrote this and we felt it was just perfect for our conference‘.  So they set about inviting potential speakers, collaborators, film makers and researching venues. Last week the conference happened. From the moment I arrived, I knew I was part of something special. The wonderful Oli Armshaw (@Olvinda), a student midwife from the University of the West of England attended (see photo below), and has written a superb reflection of the day.


Student Midwives Oli (left) Jude and Heather

When Sheena asked me to write a reflection on Friday’s Born to Safe Hands conference, I did what I always do, which is, a) instantly say yes without considering how on earth I’ll lever it in around family/full time placement/exam revision and, b) consult Twitter – and there it was, the whole marvelous day to be relived, one #B2SH tweet at a time!

On 28th March 2014, 180 midwives, mothers and a few doctors converged on the home of Bolton Wanderers football club for Born to Safe Hands: a conference to celebrate birth centres, beautifully brought to life by Bolton Birth Centre midwives, Joanne Camac and Annabel Nicholas. I’m still buzzing from the vibrantly positive atmosphere and sense of building a community, a living network – not just within the walls of the Reebok stadium conference room, but as far afield as Perth, Rio de Janeiro, Edinburgh, wherever Twitter stretches. The midwifery ecosystem keeps growing, inspiring us to keep up the fight for women’s rights to informed choice and dignity in childbirth, and to keep looking for ways to be ‘with woman’ – for all women, not just those who fit admission criteria.


Certain battle cries stood out from the day:


‘Put on your leadership hat and fight for women!’ Cathy Warwick incited every single midwife to be innovative, imaginative and creative about the woman-centred agenda, do research, challenge practice and use emerging evidence. As we all know, it’s not just the birth rate putting midwifery under pressure, but the complexity of the women we are looking after, and we need to keep this complexity in perspective, as it’s not always a problem. Cathy highlighted the need to adapt our care and policies to the over 40s mothers, who are the most rapidly increasing group, and to learn from each other about keeping the numbers up for birth centres and freestanding midwifery units.


‘Why can’t labour wards look like birth centres?’ Denis Walsh demanded, as he enthused about normalizing birth for older mothers, women with high BMIs and other complexities. He calls for a change in how we assess risk, and to make the point that change can and does happen, told us about the ACOG’s game changing revised active labour thresholds: “Cervical dilation of 6 cm should be considered the threshold for the active phase of most women in labor. Thus, before 6 cm of dilation is achieved, standards of active phase progress should not be applied.” and “A prolonged latent phase (eg, greater than 20 hours in nulliparous women and greater than 14 hours in multiparous women) should not be an indication for cesarean delivery.”


It’s the baby’s blood anyway! cried obstetrician, David Hutchon confronting the misnomer ‘placental transfusion’. No one can still be in the dark about the benefits of timely cord clamping to prevent neonatal hypovolaemia, though third stage practice is slow to change.


Love or fear?’ Soo Downe, made it very simple, binary even: Love or fear. Which one are we working from? Which drives our decisions and actions? I enjoyed her every word about belief and salutogenesis: the fundamental belief that birth is salutogenic – ie seen from a perspective of wellness.




To illustrate the effects of being watched, and the power of belief, Soo showed us this chilling image of Jeremy Bentham’s Panoptican penitentiary (1791). The concept of the design is to allow a single watchman to observe (-opticon) all (pan-) inmates of an institution without them being able to tell whether they are being watched or not. Although it is physically impossible for the single watchman to observe all cells at once, the fact that the inmates cannot know when they are being watched means that all inmates must act as though they are watched at all times, effectively controlling their own behaviour constantly. It reminded me of the main office on delivery suite where 8 women’s CTG traces can be viewed at once on a huge screen – not exactly the ‘private, safe and unobserved’ conditions recommended by Dr Sarah Buckley as the optimum environment for undisturbed, physiological birth.


Sheena Byrom’s whizzy Prezi explored the pitfalls of using guidelines-policies-protocols interchangeably, and linked the importance of supporting women to make autonomous decisions with human rights and the dignity agenda. @SagefemmmeSB is a massive advocate of Twitter, as her ‘I love you Twitter!’ video shows, eulogizing about the potential for getting and giving support; sharing ideas and news; building relationships, communities, networks and social capital; influencing change; starting or engaging in debate about practice. She implores all midwives to adopt Twitter, to respond to evidence and articles, to challenge what’s being said, to question and connect with each other. Bring the birth revolution!



Twitter pals meet. What next?


‘Is hospital birth a riskier choice for healthy women and babies?’ It was the first time I’d heard Mary Stewart speak and I loved her ‘coming clean’ as a passionate advocate of homebirth. She tackled the knotty concept of risk, swapping the word risk for chance, when talking about out of obstetric unit (OU) birth and transfers to OU from home. Mary urged us to be responsible when talking to women about place of birth, providing balanced information about planned hospital birth as well as planned home birth.


What I found most stimulating about Born to Safe Hands, was the social bonding, and positive community building of it all, which Lesley Choucri, director of midwifery at Salford University, related to Cooperider’s work on ‘unleashing the positive revolution of conversations’. Thanks to Twitter, the potential reach of the normal birth conversation at Born to Safe Hands stretches way beyond the immediate 180 people present in the room. In fact, Twitter stats  suggested that 123,228 unique users saw #B2SH and the number of impacts was over 2 million, i.e. the potential number of times someone could have seen #B2SH. This is very exciting.


photo 2

Denis Walsh with Jo Carmac


Born to Safe Hands really was a celebration of the inspiring woman-led work going on in birth centres around the country – an antidote to fear and feeling disheartened, that we are losing our grip as birth becomes ever more medicalized, as women become more complex, and less curious and trusting of our bodies. Born to Safe Hands has revived my vigour and clarity about how to develop and nurture the new midwifery and bring to life the benefits of being truly ‘with woman’, for all women – the benefits of which span generations.


Oli Armshaw @olvinda


A Storify from the conference is here, and a selection of comments:

‘best study day ever! Thank you – it’s been wonderful’

‘Best conference I’ve been to in years (and I go to a lot!). Well done. Make it annual! Make available on DVD for sale!’

‘Wonderful, wonderful day, loads of evidence and positive stories to take into my practice, thank you so much for organising’

‘Had a fabulous time, brilliant speakers. Feel ready to return fully invigorated’

‘Lovely to her what committed, expert birth centre midwives are doing in Bolton and around the UK’

‘More than exceeded my expectations, totally fantastic day, will look forward to the next one’

‘I came today to be uplifted and inspired as my unit feels very negative and de-motivated. I feel much more confident, have learnt something and feel so inspired and enthusiastic’



So Annabel and Jo, we hope you will start to plan next year’s conference soon, and make it a annual event. As Jacque Gerrard said ‘This could be the North West’s answer to MAMA!’


We are NOT using the evidence: it’s time to change


I am posting this on #NHSChangeDay 2014.

I pledge to continue to make the case for change in maternity services, until ears listen.

Recently, my lovely Italian midwife friend who is a Doctoral student in England, told me of her confusion. ‘What I can’t understand’, she began ‘is why practice in maternity services in UK remains unchallenged when you have so many esteemed academics and the some of best research evidence in the world? She made me think.

Last week I was invited to present evidence related to continuity of care and choice in place of birth at one of the Personalised Maternity Care stakeholder events, in Leeds. The events are being held around the country, and are hosted by NHS Health Education England in response to a request from the Permanent Secretary for Health, Dr Dan Poulter. Dr Poulter wants to explore the ambitions for future Maternity Services and what such services might look like by 2022.

You can read info via the tweets here.

So on finding the evidence it became very apparent-we certainly aren’t using it.

Here are my slides.  I decided to share them widely to enable discussion and hopefully receive comments and ideas from readers to help inform the Minister.

Slide 1: There is an abundance of policy, guidance and results of surveys directing maternity services, which is largely being ignored. This is alarming, though not surprising. Yet let us consider: why was the Peel Report (Ministry of Health 1970) directing 100% hospital ‘deliveries’ given urgent attention, and fully implemented WITHOUT  evidence presented or women’s opinions to back it up?


Slide 2: We are not using latest research evidence, and according to the National Audit Office report (NAO) and the Public Accounts Committee report  (PAC) there is no measuring or reporting progress, no data, no assurance of value for money, and huge variations in cost, quality, safety and outcomes. In addition, women and families are reporting dissatisfaction with their care (Birthrights, CQC, Women’s Institute), few women are receiving continuity, and choice in pace of birth (NAO, BirthChoice UK). Furthermore, stillbirth rates in England are highest in UK, and litigation costs increasing.

Slide 3: Margaret Hodge MP spells it out for you to read. Maragert chairs the PAC, and her observations are, I believe, a true reflection of maternity services in England today.

Slide 4 and 5: Reality for midwives. Desperation which often leads to leaving the profession, and for those can’t leave, numbness which increases risk of substandard care. There is a link to another post on this blog, where many comments have been made.

Slide 6: The NHS Mandate gives some direction for the future. Named midwife. What does that mean? The NHS England definition is ‘a midwife who co-ordinates all the care and delivers some of the care’ .   Continuity of care is another misused phrase, but if continuity is good, surely there would be improved responses to ‘mental health concerns’.

Slide 7: Highlights the main references for the research evidence for continuity of care

Slide 8: Reveals some of what this evidence tells us. How can we not take notice?

Slide 9: Did you know that the National Service Framework for children, young people and maternity services was still the current directive for maternity services?  And it states that every woman should be able ‘to choose the most appropriate place and professional during childbirth’

Slide 10, 11 & 12 : The evidence for choice in place of birth has NEVER been so strong as it is now, for women with no or expected complications. These are the key findings of the Birthplace Study but in general it tells us:

Giving birth is generally very safe

-Midwifery units appear to be safe for the baby and offer benefits for the mother

-For women having a second or subsequent baby, home births and midwifery unit births appear to be safe for the baby and offer benefits for the mother

-For women having a first baby, a planned home birth increases the risk for the baby (this is very small- four more babies in every thousand births had a poor outcome as a result of a planned home birth in first pregnancies).

-Women planning to give birth in a midwifery unit experienced substantially less medical intervention than those in an obstetric unit.

For women having a second or subsequent baby, home births and midwifery unit births appear to be safe for the baby and offer benefits for the mother

 For multiparous women, there were no significant differences in adverse perinatal outcomes

between planned home births or midwifery unit births and planned births in obstetric units.

 For multiparous women, birth in a non‐obstetric unit setting significantly and substantially reduced the odds of having an intrapartum caesarean section, instrumental delivery or episiotomy.

Important points I would like to make here, for those working closely with expectant parents:

Do you mention the above evidence when talking to women about their choices? I expect most will remember to mention the small risk for first time mothers wishing to birth at home. But do you advise women about the potential increased risk of unnecessary  medical intervention?

How do you make evidence accessible for parents? How do you deliver the evidence, do you know what it says? This is a brilliant article on how to share evidence based information. It’s a must read.

Slide 13: Is self-explanatory. Note the decrease in obstetric units (OU) and increase in alongside midwifery led units (MLU). This coincides with the number of amalgamated Trusts, and the aforesaid NSF. There is only a slight increase in the number of freestanding midwifery units (FMU), probably due to closures corresponding with others opening.  The slide informs us that very few women have the full choice guarantee as proposed in the NSF in 2004.

Slide 14: Because of the above, the slide shows that most women (87%) give birth in an OU.

Slide 15: Two recent media articles demonstrating ongoing constraints of providing home birth and birth centre births, yet the evidence is clear that women choosing to birth in these venues are there less to endure unnecessary interventions, and the service is more cost effective.  Does that make sense?

Slide 16: The best estimate of women eligible to have their baby in a non OU setting (low risk) is 50%, although WHO estimate this should be between 70-80%.   Taking 50% of 2012 birth rate (700,000) = 350,000  and deducting 89,000 women who actually had midwife led births in non OU setting, leaves us with the shocking figure of 261,000 women and babies who, according to Birthplace Study, are potentially exposed to unnecessary medical intervention.

This is unacceptable. Yet it remains silent, unspoken, when the small risk of home birth is magnified out of proportion. In addition to the human cost in terms of morbidity, there are financial implications, and pressures on the workforce. So now we have the evidence, and things MUST to change.

Slide 17: Some of the effects of the previous slide, in terms of mode of birth, and maternal feelings. Diagrams taken from the Dignity Survey 2013.

Slide 18: The potential consequences of current maternity service provision.

Slide 19: What Personalised Maternity Care should look like, including flexible use of clinical guidelines, to support women’s choices.

Slide 20: Relevant and important recommendations from the Public Accounts Committee.

The following slides give and example of maternity services in East Lancashire, where I worked for 35 years. I have highlighted these award-winning services to demonstrate how choice and continuity can be achieved. The service is situated in one of the most socially deprived Local Authorities in England, and has undergone a significant reconfiguration in 2013. With 30% of 6,700 births per year in the three birth centres (2 FMUs and 1 AMU), they are maximizing opportunity for women and staff, with excellent results.  The slides demonstrate financial gain from the model of care, and how mothers, midwives and managers feel about the service.  The key factors of success for the model in East Lancashire are:

-Model of care: midwives work in the community AND the birth centre, providing continuity and accurate and positive information sharing about place of birth

-Collaboration: obstetricians, midwives, neonatoligists, service uses, auxiliary staff support each other, and work together to ensure the woman and her family are supported.

-Leadership: the service has strong midwifery leadership at all levels.

The last slide is of my newest granddaughter, Myla. When Myla is of age to have children of her own, I want her to know that the evidence we now have was used well, to give her the best chance ever to have a positive experience and healthy baby.

Please leave your comments. We musn’t give up.

Screen Shot 2014-03-06 at 18.46.46

Table: Dodwell and Newburn (2010) 


Ministry of Health (1970) Domiciliary Midwifery and Maternity Bed Needs: the Report of the Standing Maternity and Midwifery Advisory Committee (Sub-committee Chairman J. Peel), HMSO, London

Photographs used in slides are owned by Sheena Byrom and East Lancashire Hospitals Trust

By sheenabyrom

We need more midwife Care Makers! Check out what Liverpool students did!


I received an email today from the Royal College of Midwives, asking me to post this wonderful news item on my blog. And I was delighted to, for many reasons.

As I regularly use Twitter and connect with nurses and midwives at all levels, I read about the massive impact the Compassion in Practice strategy is having on the NHS…both at the bedside and on social media. I’ve been enthused by the role of Care Makers, and have been trying to encourage more midwives to join. So if you are a student midwife, or a midwife, this may encourage you!

Care Makers are health and social care staff (student and qualified) who act as ambassadors for the 6Cs. They are selected for demonstrating a commitment to spreading the word about Compassion in Practice across the NHS. Care Makers create a unique link between national policy and strategy to staff working with patients. The aim is to capture the ‘spirit’ of London 2012, learning from the way Games Makers were recruited, trained and valued and  instilling the spirit of energy and enthusiasm they created.


(L-R) Student Midwives Ela Yuregir, Emily Lamb, Tisian Lynskey-Wylkie, Clare Bratherton and Sophie Cavanagh

This January five Liverpool John Moores Midwifery Students represented their University at a Nursing and Midwifery Celebration Event at Liverpool Women’s Hospital.
These students (pictured above) volunteered as Caremakers at the event, which showcased services at Liverpool Women’s Hospital. The day was a huge success, with notable external speakers, stakeholders, staff and service users in attendance. Nursing and Midwifery workforce also got the opportunity to make a commitment to their patients in part of the new strategy at the Women’s titled “Our Promise to Patients”.


(L-R) Ela Yuregir, Tisian Lynskey-Wylkie and Sophie Cavanagh

Three of the students also represented the University and Trust as Student Quality Ambassadors – a new role developed in the North West of England for students to champion and highlight good practice and challenge areas needing development in the practice areas of their placements.
Student Midwife Ela Yuregir said “Having just started my Midwifery training I am keen to get involved in the sphere of Midwifery both at a local and regional level which is why I chose to become an SQA at The Women’s Hospital. Events like this one really inspire me as I can see the staff here are so passionate about the women they care for, and it’s great to see the Hospital are so pro-active in acknowledging and improving their great standard of care”
Student Clare Bratherton comments on her experience taking part in the “Me Effect” video launched at the event: “I was really proud to be asked by Liverpool Women’s hospital to represent LJMU by taking part in  video.  It highlights the impact that every individual has on patient experience and care.  The nursing and midwifery celebration day saw the launch of this and to be present as a Caremaker was a real privilege.”
Tisian Lysnkey-Wylkie explains how the event highlighted to her the passion that her mentors still have “As a student midwife in the middle of my training it’s great to be part of an event and see my mentors keen to engage in the trust they work for, and be proud to work at LWH. That to me shows that they are still motivated and passionate about midwifery and include themselves in progressing to provide better maternity care for our women. I am proud to be a student learning in a trust that is so dedicated to women’s health and look forward to the rest of my training here. As an SQA it’s part of my role to highlight good practice an developments that benefit those in the NHS, at a time when midwives are under pressure celebration days are needed to show the appreciation that midwives deserve, more events should be done to acknowledge their hard work
The event was a great success overall and the students hope that their roles as both Care Makers and SQAs will inspire current and future JMU Midwifery Students to get involved with their local trusts.

WOW! What incredibly motivated and passionate student midwives…well done to all of you for representing your organisations, the NW of England, and MIDWIFERY! Thank you!

So come on fellow midwives…join the crew


By sheenabyrom

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW-Toni and Alex changing the world


Alex Wakeford and Toni Harman

Toni Harman and her partner Alex became known to me when I saw a short clip of one of their outstanding videos, on a social media channel. This was several years ago, and since then I have stayed in close contact with them, assisting and supporting them whenever I can. To say that they took the birthing world by storm is an understatement. This unique partnership has given birth activists the voice they needed, and their expertise in documentary film making means we now how a powerful medium to share knowledge to more people.

As Toni and Alex have just launched their exciting new campaign MicroBirth, I asked Toni if I could interview her for my blog (and she agreed!)

Hi Toni, thanks for agreeing to answering my questions, hope you have fun! Can you tell us a bit about yourselves in a nutshell?

 Toni: Thanks Sheena for inviting us to do this! 

Alex and I met at London Film School 20 years ago, (back then it was called the London International Film School). After we graduated, we formed a company called Alto Films and started making films together. We made documentaries, short films and even a psychological thriller feature film. Then six years ago, we had a baby. And that changed everything.

We started making films about birth. We made a documentary about doulas called DOULA! then we started looking into the bigger picture of childbirth.

Three years later, we’ve travelled 35,000 miles and interviewed over 150 world leading experts – amongst them, academics, lawyers, scientists, midwives, obstetricians, psychologists and anthropologists. We’ve released short videos on our One World Birth website and started building a community of people on Facebook.

In 2012 we released FREEDOM FOR BIRTH, a 60 minute documentary that exposed human rights abuses around the world, particularly highlighting the story of the imprisoned Hungarian midwife Agnes Gereb.

In December 2012, we started looking at possible subjects for our next documentary. We started researching the science around birth and the more we read, the more “levels” we seemed to uncover. It was fascinating but also, deeply troubling. So in the summer of 2013, we started filming, first in the UK and then we flew out to the United States and Canada. What we learned shocked us to the core – we realised this film had the potential to change everything. And so MICROBIRTH was born.


ONE WORLD BIRTH is a now well known name globally, and FREEDOM FOR BIRTH  is a huge success. What impact do you think you and the campaign has had so far ?

Toni: That’s very kind of you to say. I think ONE WORLD BIRTH is perhaps well-known in the birth world, but outside the birth world, I don’t think many people have heard of it.

Same goes for FREEDOM FOR BIRTH – I am really proud of its “success” in terms of the number of people in the birth world who have seen it, or at least have heard about the film. With the premiere launch, we had over 100,000 people see the film at over 1,000 screenings in 50 countries in 17 languages – all on one day.

 And I’m very proud that the film has played a part in starting to change maternity policies worldwide so that the rights of birthing women are respected. But realistically, outside the birth world, I’m not sure how many of the “mainstream population” have heard about it or know about the issues.

Unfortunately, women’s rights in childbirth are still being abused every day all around the world – many expectant women are not being given full informed consent, home birth attended by midwives is not available as a supported choice in many parts of the world and indeed, in the past year, many more midwives have been criminally prosecuted for supporting women giving birth at home. I remain optimistic that change will happen so that all women’s choices are fully respected everywhere around the world and I am excited by the potential of the formation of Human Rights in Childbirth and Birthrights as organisations that will help further the cause.

 I am so excited about your new project MICROBIRTH -do tell us about it please, and a something about the inspiration behind it?


Toni: MICROBIRTH is our new feature-length documentary asking if medical interventions in childbirth could be damaging the long-term health of our children and have repercussions for the whole of our species.

We wanted to make a film that looks at birth in a whole new way, through the lens of a microscope. This has never been done before and we believe the science the film is revealing is the missing piece of the jigsaw. This could change birth around the world, forever.

The film explores the latest scientific developments in the fields of microbiology, physiology and epigenetics.

Some scientists are starting to question if there is a link between medical interventions in childbirth (specifically use of synthetic oxytocin, antibiotics, C-section and formula feeding) with an increased risk of our children developing non-communicable disease later in life.

Non-communicable diseases include heart disease, asthma and other respiratory diseases, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, some cancers and mental health disorders. They are already at epidemic proportions around the world and are the world’s no. 1 killer. But these diseases are on the rise. It is predicted that the cost of non-communicable disease could bankrupt world healthcare systems by the year 2030, an event that could have catastrophic consequences for mankind….

The campaign’s 9 minute pitch video features some of the scientists we have filmed and explains a bit of the science of the microbiome. The film also tells more about the event that we’ve been describing as “global warming for the species”:

What are your plans for this campaign?

Toni: We need to raise $100,000 to complete filming and to get the film seen around the world. So we’ve launched an Indiegogo campaign to help us raise the funds we need. If we can raise enough money, then we want to film at the Human Microbiome Project in New York, the United Nations, the World Economic Forum and the World Health Organization as well as filming the top people at leading obstetric organisations to hear their view about the potential long-term consequences of medical interventions in childbirth.

The most exciting part of this project is how we want to release the film. Just like we did with FREEDOM FOR BIRTH, we want to have thousands of premiere screenings of MICROBIRTH held all around the world on one single day. We want to create a global simultaneous event with screenings in every community, in every country so that we can grab the attention of the global media and we can grab the attention of decision-makers including our Presidents and Prime Ministers. It sounds ambitious, but we truly believe that if we can do this, especially if we have the the support of strong-minded, strong-willed individuals committed to making change happen.

In terms of what we want this film to achieve, we want to raise awareness that there could be long-term consequences arising from the medicalised way we are giving birth today, both for our children and for our whole species. We want to get everyone talking about this and taking this issue extremely seriously for the future of humanity could be at stake. And we would love to see much more scientific research looking at the potential long-term consequences of medical interventions in childbirth, before it is too late.

 What’s the most important thing you have learnt since beginning this amazing journey of campaigning for better childbirth?

Toni: We’ve been very fortunate in being able to film interviews with over 150 experts across so many different fields.

But I think there’s two pivotal moments in our journey so far.  The first birth I filmed completely changed my world view. It was four years ago and it was a home water birth in the UK with the mother and father supported by a doula and two wonderful midwives (it was the first birth featured in our DOULA! Film). It was a completely physiological labour, birth and 3rd stage with no pharmacological pain relief, not even gas and air.  The labour and birth was the most beautiful, amazing, calm, wonderful, inspiring thing I have ever seen. It was perfect. I saw with my own eyes what birth could be like. I know some women might not want a home birth. And some women might want or need pain relief and other medical interventions. But the beauty of that moment, well, it was simply life-changing.

The second pivotal moment was last summer when we were filming for MICROBIRTH. We filmed a Professor of Immunotoxiciology at Cornell University. He told us exactly why and how interventions in childbirth could be damaging the long-term health of our children with implications for the whole of mankind. We had huge goose-bumps. I still have them now as I remember that moment.

If I had a magic wand, and could grant one wish to ensure all women had a positive birth experience, what would you ask for?

Toni: After we made FREEDOM FOR BIRTH my hope was that every woman on the planet has the best possible birth wherever, however and with whom she chooses to give birth. I hope that all women are fully informed about their birth choices and that these choices are fully respected by every healthcare provider.

But now with MICROBIRTH, I have one more wish. That every expectant mother and healthcare provider is fully informed about the importance of seeding the baby’s microbiome with the mother’s own bacteria. That even if a mother needs to have a C-section, that she is still fully supported with immediate skin-to-skin contact and with breastfeeding. It sounds a technical, scientific wish, but if this was possible on a planet-wide basis, I believe that this could make a significant difference to the future health of mankind.


Toni and Alex after the birth of their baby girl, born by C Section

And lastly, what drives you both, as a couple, to stay motivated and passionate about your work in this area?

Toni: When we were at film school, we were told to never make a film unless you felt that it had the power to change the world. So every film we make, we honestly do set out to change the world. That’s what drives us forward. That’s what motivates us. The thought that we can use our skills as filmmakers to make a significant difference to the world.

With MICROBIRTH, we think this could be a game-changer. This could be THE ONE. We feel that this is the most important film we will ever make. But to get it finished and seen around the world for maximum impact, we need everyone’s support – not just financially in terms of contributions to our fund-raising campaign, but in sharing links and in spreading awareness, both now and when the finished film is released this September.

Thanks Sheena for asking me to do this. It was fun!

By sheenabyrom

It’s 2014. Time to listen, and hear what midwives say


Earlier this month a health correspondent from The Independent contacted me via Twitter to ask me if I would be willing to comment on this article, written the day before.

The piece quoted the words of a very honest and courageous midwife, and I applaud her. I don’t usually like commentaries which could potential cause fear amongst women who use our maternity services…and I am always wary of journalists, for this very reason. However this article is very accurate, and I am sure 80% of midwives would agree with what is written.

I wrote about these issues here.

The RCM are continuously campaigning for more midwives, and although NHS England have published a staffing strategy placing onus on Trusts to ensure safe standards in terms of capacity and capability, there aren’t enough midwives to fill posts. Support staff are crucial, as often midwives are doing non midwifery tasks, but often organisations can’t afford them either. We are constantly reminded that there are increased pressures within maternity services due to an increasing birth rate and complexities of those using the service, but external and internal reviews of NHS organisations and departments, and risk management agendas (including processes relating to CNST) are adding to the strain through increased bureaucracy and fear.

It seems some midwives possess professional resilience to pressure and adversity in the workplace, managing to stay positive and motivated despite the increasing demands placed upon them (Hunter and Warren 2013). . One of the themes from this study findings was ‘building resilience’, where participants demonstrated the development of strategies to help themselves and others to cope. So where do student midwives and midwives get the support from, to help them to cope on a daily basis? Do they know whom these ‘resilient midwives’ are, to help them to build coping mechanism for preservation? Sometimes sharing a crisis moment with a work colleague or supervisor of midwives does the trick, and support is there and continues. But there are times when practitioners fail to share feelings for many reasons, including time, confidentiality, and confidence.

I had specific colleagues that I turned to in stressful times or moments of crisis, and I knew the things I could do to help me re-focus and keep things in perspective. In the early 1990s I had read Caroline Flint’s book, ‘Sensitive Midwifery’ (Flint 1991), and I loved and used the suggestions Caroline gave to midwives on self-care. I think they helped me.

I have written a short piece in February’s edition of Practising Midwife, about how social media and online resources can help practitioners to stay in touch with like minded individuals and to glean tips to try to stay positive at work. And later this month I have written a @wemidwives chat to share ideas with nurses, midwives and students. Join in if you can!

In the meantime, these were my suggestions to the journalist, about how we can try to help midwives and improve maternity care:

The Government needs to hear and act in terms of resourcing increased midwife numbers. The problem will not go away. Choice, continuity of care and carer and the sustainability of independent midwifery are all crucial issues that need urgent attention, BUT WE NEED MORE MIDWIVES.

For maternity services, there needs to be a shift of focus on wellbeing instead of illness, and kindness and compassion instead of punitive culture where fear and blame prevails. The latter adds extra burden on an already pressured service. Although midwives are leaving due to increased stress at work, there are many who can’t, and they need to be valued and cared for.

We need an invigorated focus on reducing unnecessary medical intervention during childbirth, mainly because there is emerging evidence that the consequences are potentially catastrophic.

What are your thoughts?


Flint C (1991) Sensitive Midwifery Butterworth-Heinemann Ltd London

By sheenabyrom

England needs more midwives: but legal services are fine


I was interviewed on Radio 5 Live yesterday, in relation to the news coverage of the National Audit Office revelations of maternity care.  The report confirmed the fact that England IS short of midwives, and revealed that the NHS spends nearly £700 on clinical negligence cover for each live birth in England. I wonder how many times audits and reports will confirm what we midwives have known and shouted about for years, and how long the message will continue to fall on deaf ears.

The Royal College of Midwives,  National Childbirth Trust, AIMS,  Women’s Institute and other organisations have campaigned long and hard for more midwives, needed urgently for the rising birth rate and increasing complexity in caring for mothers and babies. But there is something else going on here. The financial implications of England’s current negligence insurance scheme (Clinical Negligence Schemes for Trusts) mentioned above are bad enough, but associated processes also significantly increases the workload of maternity care staff, and adds to the growing culture of fear in maternity services.

In an attempt to increase safety through implementing standards of compliance, activity related to the scheme potentially increases risk by putting extra pressure of individual members of staff. ‘Tick box’ activity, extra form filling, and duplication of records add to the human cost and potential for mistakes. In many organisations midwives are taken out of generic posts to work as ‘risk midwives’ or governance leads. Usually these midwives are highly competent clinically, and their absence in the clinical area is missed-adding to the risk.


However, an important impact of our legal system is related to practitioner’s fear of recrimination, and fear of litigation. Defensive practice or ‘covering your back’ ‘just in case’ is a recognised symptom of fear of litigation-and subsequent over treatment increases the risk of iatrogenic harm.  The increased and often duplicated recording of information becomes the focus of ‘care’, as practitioners complete patient records which are audited for insurance purposes. What the carer writes becomes more important than what she/he does, and women and families increasingly experience this distraction negatively.

The medical negligence solicitor who took part in the radio programme with me yesterday, said midwives and doctors need to increase their skills, and he suggested that England’s medical negligence processes were the envy of the world. I have a different opinion. Ensuring safety through appropriate skills is crucial, and whilst mistakes will happen, there is no excuse and we should continually work on improving services. Along with others, I believe improvements will only come if NHS workers are sufficient in number to have time to care, and that they are supported and nurtured enough to feel safe themselves. Where fear prevails and defensive practice in normal, women and families will continue to suffer. Radical but carefully planned changes are needed. Malpractice claims are rising, and there is little evidence that safety is improving, despite the laborious and bureaucratic systems and process imposed in the name of such. Our negligence claims insurance schemes aren’t working, and midwives are on their knees. Even though politician Dan Poulter is an obstetrician by profession, his responses to the NAO report reveal limited insight into the detail underpinning the facts that matter. We’ve said it before many times. If we don’t get it right for mothers and babies at the beginning of life, the impact can last a lifetime.

Childbirth has far reaching public health implications. This specilist medical negligence solicitor reveals the fact that many of the claims she sees are the result of pressures within the maternity systems, and calls for more resources to be invested.  Maybe it’s time to revisit a no-fault compensation scheme, the attempt in 2003 was never taken forward. Scotland has pursued this in light of the success in other countries.

Whatever we do, we can’t continue in the same vein. I would love to know your thoughts.

Lively interview with student midwife Liz!


Liz with her children

Well, as with many other inspirational student midwives, I ‘met’ Liz via Twitter. Her name appeared regularly, on midwifery debates and forums, and her enthusiasm and drive attracted my attention. I think the calibre of student midwives is getting better and better; women (and men!) entering our profession are kind, compassionate and quite dynamic.

So, here’s Liz Blamire!

Hi Liz, many thanks indeed for agreeing to be interviewed for my blog! I am delighted…would you like to start by introducing yourself?

I am a third year student midwife at Anglia Ruskin University. I am also a wife and mother of two children aged 10 and 12. I am 36 years old and I love to read and I like fast cars!

Great! Can you tell us about why you decided to become a midwife, and what influenced your decision?

When pregnant with my daughter I discovered the world of pregnancy, labour and birth and the political aspect appealed to me. I had home water births and for me, birthing was very much about womanhood, body awareness and feminine power. I felt incredibly in touch with myself. In my subsequent voluntary work with NCT I met many women for whom the experience was very different, with disempowerment, loss of control and a ‘grin and bear it’ experience being common themes. It was largely the influence of my husband – “don’t just moan about it, get in on the inside and change it!” – that pushed me to apply. In fact, I had a place to start the Midwifery BSc in 2005 and I ultimately declined the place as the children were so young and my husband was starting his own business. In retrospect I probably would not have made it through the course back then. Instead I started in March 2011 – again because of my husband, who said “you are going to be a midwife now” when I had all but forgotten about the dream.

What are the things you enjoy most as a student midwife Liz?

The best part of being a student midwife is the amazing rapport you can build with women. Women surprise me everyday, with their strength, character and sense of humour. We get to take part in the most intimate and transformative journey that most women go through. What can beat that?

And what things would you change, if you could?

How long have you got?! This is actually a very difficult question as my experience has been overwhelmingly positive although I know that many student midwives struggle with various aspects of the training. The hardest things for me have revolved around getting the work / life balance right. The work of the midwife is emotionally draining and sometimes I feel like I need the equivalent amount of quiet, contemplative time to heal myself. So it can be incredibly hard to finish a 12.5 hour shift and then know that when you get home you need to strongly encourage the children to do their homework and clean out the hamsters! Or deal with a family problem such as friendship fall outs at school and upset 12 year old girls, or just be nice to your husband…

Mentorship is very important to student midwives, and I understand why. We hear different accounts from students about their mentors -some good, and some not so good.  Can you think about the best mentor you have had, and tell us what her qualities are that make her stand out?

Hand on heart every mentor I have had has been incredibly good. The qualities I appreciate most are the qualities I try and embody in my own midwifery practice and I see the mentor-student relationship as very similar to the midwife-mother relationship. To be supportive, nurturing and always act with integrity. To enable hopes and targets to be realised, even if that means you have to be pushed slightly out of your comfort zone. To have a mutual respect for and learn from each other.

I know that you are involved in extra activity, such as your work with the Royal College of Midwives. Can you tell us about that and anything else you do outside your regular training?

You are right I am the (outgoing) chair of the Student Midwives Forum at the RCM. I am also on the Steering Group of the Association of Radical Midwives. In that role I am hosting an amazing (if I do say so myself) meeting in Northamptonshire on December 7th 2013. 


Obviously I try and get out and about with my children, usually involving a long walk in a country park and a sneaky lunch out somewhere! I used to spend a lot of time attending motorsport events and I am actually the co-owner (with my husband) of a company that tunes performance cars, although I have only been to two events this year. My motorsport life sometimes seems like a world away from midwifery and yet, those old friends are all incredibly supportive and love to hear about birth and stuff even when twirling a spanner over an engine bay!

What are your long term plans?

I absolutely want to work in a low risk setting. Either a stand alone midwifery led unit, or as a caseload midwife. I would also like to undertake postgraduate study and dream of being a Professor of Midwifery (probably clinical) one day. Most of all though, I want to continue to enjoy the profession and keep my passion burning and make a difference to as many women as possible.

What advice would you give to someone who would like to become a midwife?

Find out as much as you can about midwifery, the good and bad bits. Try and meet different kinds of midwives. If you still want to do it and think you can, the only way you will fully know is to try it.

Many thanks Liz, you obviously made the right choice, as your passion shines through in your words. I am sure already you are making an enormous difference to women and families you care for. 

Liz can be contacted via Twitter :  @Li33ieBee

By sheenabyrom

The right to choose home birth: a debate in the UK


Clara Ruth’s birth at home: meeting her family!

I am always alarmed, though not surprised, to see press articles such as this questioning the ‘rights’ of women requesting a home birth.  Over a period of 35 years as a midwife, I have cared for scores women who have given birth at home, and those occasions have been some of the most rewarding moments in my career.  We now have clear evidence that home birth is cost effective and safe.

My district nursing sister (who had her babies at home) tells me that when loved ones wish to die at home, the request is always respected. Services are mobilised to ensure those precious end of life moments are as comfortable as possible. To me, this is fundamental stuff, and choice at the beginning and end of life should have equal priority.  Yet in the above article, lawyer Barbara Hewson is quoted as stating that ‘mother’s don’t have a right to choose a home birth’.

I noticed that the Royal College of Midwives is debating this very issue at their forthcoming conference in November.

I was surprised that an obstetrician is speaking on the topic, and we are to hear perspectives from a panel made up of a lawyer, an obstetrician and a journalist. But where’s the midwife? Isn’t the midwife the one who facilitates home birth?

So I thought I would ask some questions to a similar panel, but to include a midwife, to get a debate going…please add your comments and experiences at the end of the post, and add to the conversation.

 The panel:

Professor Soo Downe OBE (Midwife)

Elizabeth Prochaska (Lawyer-Public Law and Human Rights)

Milli Hill (Journalist-Mother-Doula)

First of all, what do you think about the newspaper article, and Barbara Hewson’s stance on the matter?


SD: I was rather surprised to see the statement that women don’t have a right to a home birth in the UK. As far as I understand it, the Midwives Act 1902 gives women this right, by virtue of the fact that the midwife must attend a woman in labour if called. So, at the extreme, whatever clinical or social situation she is in, a woman in labour at home can call a midwife to her. Obviously, it is much better if this doesn’t happen at the last minute, and if this right to be attended in labour is translated into a an obligation for the maternity services to provide good antenatal care and planned support for the labour, the home birth right-or-not debate becomes a red herring.

The debate also sets up women in opposition to the fetus, and the midwife as having more obligations to her employer than to her Code of Practice and professional moral standards. Both of these developments are very sinister, and both should be resisted.

MH: Although my first reaction to the newspaper article was negative, on reflection I think the article is interesting.  To me it looks like an editor has given it a very attention seeking headline and chosen a particularly provocative sub heading (sometimes called the ‘sell’), which sadly complies to the popular notion that home birth is dangerous and probably shouldn’t be allowed.

However, the article is not really saying that birth is dangerous – Barbara Hewson balances this statement with the fact that birth can equally go wrong in hospital and that the litigation culture is probably causing unnecessary interventions. Nor is Hewson saying that ‘mothers don’t have the right to a home birth’ – although she is unpicking from the legal angle the question ‘what are mother’s rights when it comes to home birth’ – a subtle difference that the editor perhaps ignored in their search for traffic.

As a mother who has birthed at home twice (once last month!), the article made me very uneasy. When you put it alongside the current situation in Ireland highlighted by the recent case of Aja Teehan – and the current situation for Independent Midwives in the UK – and a similar struggle to save home birth in France – which I understand is also happening in South Africa… and then read details of the RCM conference debate – it really starts to feel almost like a backlash against the movement to reclaim birth.

Home birth – for me – was the place where I felt safest from unnecessary intervention – and I speak as someone who experienced an episiotomy and forceps delivery in hospital for my first birth, purely because the clock dictated I could not have any more time, although myself and baby were well.

In my two home births I have experienced how birth proceeds so normally in a safe and loving environment, and how wonderfully empowering it can be to birth your baby yourself, with nobody taking control or telling you what to do. I wonder why there is such an energy across the western world that seems determined to prevent women birthing like this? Is it really all about safety?

EP: Lawyers often have different views on the right interpretation of the law and there are rarely clear-cut answers to legal questions, especially when the question hasn’t been considered by a court. Nevertheless, when a lawyer purports to explain the law (rather than give their own opinion about it), it is incumbent on them to give a clear and balanced account. It is a shame that the headline to the article suggested that there is no ‘right’ to home birth, as this is not an accurate reflection of the law, and did not reflect the nuance of the article.

What are the mother’s legal rights to a have a home birth, and does it make a difference ‘if things go wrong?’

SD: Even in the very rare situations where the choice a woman makes for place of birth might lead to a very real risk to the baby, there is still no legal grounds for denying her her autonomy, as far as I’m aware. Consider, for example, the case of two identical twins. One is terminally ill with kidney failure, and his twin is the only possible donor match. However, for reasons best known to himself, the healthy twin refuses to donate his kidney to save his brother. Is there any conceivable situation when it would be legally and morally acceptable for the healthy brother to be taken against his will to hospital, subjected to necessary drug treatment to prepare him for surgery, be operated on against his will, and have his kidney removed, for the sake of the brother, however much we may struggle to understand the rationale for his refusal?

Why is it different for women who are refusing to go to hospital for the sake of their baby?

MH: Since learning about the case of Ternovsky vs Hungary at the European Court of Human Rights, I have been under the impression that women have a human right to give birth wherever they wish.

What Barbara Hewson seems to be saying is worrying – essentially that, although women may have the ‘right’ to give birth where they like, the state does not have an obligation to provide them with care in any setting, if this is not practical or they deem the birth to be too risky. This is exactly what has just happened to Aja Teehan, and it seems we are only a whisker away from a similar situation in the UK – the whisker being, as Hewson points out, that the NMC states that midwives have a duty of care to attend a woman no matter what.

Some women who are aware of this will currently insist on attendance by a midwife at home even if their local hospital states that they do not have enough staff to provide one.

But it would only take a small change – an insurance issue, for example – for us to be in a situation where it was impractical or even illegal for a midwife to attend a woman at home regardless of their employer’s wishes.

‘Things going wrong’, insurance, and the desire to minimize or even eliminate risk seem to be at the heart of the issue. Having had two ‘uninsured’ home births with Independent Midwives, I think it’s worth reminding ourselves that insurance only pays out in the case of negligence, and that ‘things going wrong’ in birth does not necessarily mean someone was to blame or that we would have been safer in hospital. I also feel that myself and my partner were capable of assessing any risks involved in home birth – exercising our autonomy as we did so, and being prepared to take responsibility for our decision no matter what happened.

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of Hewson’s piece is that she implies that mothers (and fathers) of unborn children may not be the best people to decide where their baby is born. She talks about births at home against medical advice that had tragic consequences. And she finishes by saying that insisting on having a midwife attend you at home against their employer’s wishes may not be ‘wise’.

This, too, is at the crux of the debate – who should decide where a baby is born? Of course, my view is that it should always be the mother, and that she can absolutely be trusted to make the right decision about this. However, this view is not shared by everybody – many still subscribe to a ‘doctor knows best’ attitude and are reluctant to examine the actual facts and figures that underpin medical advice and decisions. As Labour party Counsellor Ronan McManus tweeted in response to AIMS Ireland, “allowing someone untrained and emotionally involved to interpret the evidence is a dangerous trend.”

This breathtakingly misogynistic view sums up the problem that many people have with home birth – it puts the power and autonomy back into the hands of the mother, which is ‘dangerous’.

The voice of a home birth mother – or any mother – also seems conspicuous by its absence at the RCM debate?

Again I’m wondering – is the current backlash against home birth part of a drive towards safer births and better outcomes? Or does it contain an undercurrent of an age-old desire to limit or destroy the power of the birthing woman?


EP: We need to start from the basic premise that women are the best and only judge of where they give birth. If we start to question their capacity to make that decision, we undermine centuries of hard-won legal autonomy and we wouldn’t be far from advocating forced c-sections, which Barbara Hewson was instrumental in prohibiting in the 1990s.

The simple legal answer to the question whether a woman has a right to give birth at home is: yes, of course. She has a right to make choices about the circumstances in which she gives birth, including where the birth takes place. This is uncontroversial as a matter of English common law (which respects autonomous decision-making) and under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (which protects the right to private life and associated right to physical integrity).

A woman cannot be compelled to accept hospital services and she may give birth where she chooses. The real issue is whether this ‘negative’ right translates into a positive right to midwifery assistance at home. The European Court has recognised that the state is required to take steps to enable this positive right, but there will be acceptable limitations that can be placed on it. Barbara Hewson’s article dealt with those potential limitations. She suggested that staffing shortages might be one such limitation. In the absence of a case determining this point, we can only say that there may well be circumstances in which staffing issues would justify a limited service and cases when they would not. There isn’t a blanket rule when it comes to factual conditions that justify limitations on rights. Certainly, government and NMC policy mandating attendance of midwives at home would inform the court’s assessment of hospital decision-making about home birth.

You can read more about the debate on the Birthrights website:


How can we ensure that the balance is right, with respect of what the woman wants, and what the care-giver wants and is able to provide, ensuring safe, high quality care?

 EP: The question of service-provision isn’t really about balance, it’s more about what women can reasonably expect from their maternity services. Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG’s) in England and Health Boards in Scotland and Wales are under an obligation to provide services to meet local needs. Women invariably need to be provided with a variety of options for maternity services, including home birth. CCGs and Health Boards are also under an obligation to have regard to government policy on maternity choices, which requires them to make home birth available as a choice in all areas. In essence, women can expect to be provided with home birth services and should hold their local decision-makers to account if they are not provided, or are unreliable.

Do you think the issue of choice in place of birth influences the relationship between mother and midwife, and if so, why?


SD: Good maternity services = skilled and compassionate care in an authentic relationship with the woman. And this includes a stop to the quibbling about facilitating home birth for women, especially when the evidence says it is the most economic and safest place for most low risk women and babies to be;  and a turn towards providing the best possible care for women and babies in the place that suits them best.

EP: All the evidence suggests that choice of place of birth can have a profound effect on women’s experience of their birth experience, measured not only in improved clinical outcomes (and consequent public health savings) but also in terms of long-term emotional consequences for the mother and child. Continuity of carer, generally only achieved when the mother chooses a home birth, has a particularly positive effect for women, presumably because women build a trusting relationship with their midwife that enables better care and support. It is no surprise that the Department of Health seeks to promote home birth as a result.


If you have anything else to add….

MH: I don’t think the question should ever be asked, “Do mothers have the right to give birth at home?”, or, “Do women have the right to give birth where, how and with whom they choose?”. A woman’s right to have her baby where and how she chooses seems so fundamental to me and it feels wrong and dangerous to even question that basic right.

However, there are questions about the practicality of home birth in such times of midwife shortages, insurance issues etc, that are worth asking. Why are the RCM, for example, not debating ‘How can we encourage home birth to increase and flourish in the current climate?’, that would seem to make more sense.

We would like to know your thoughts, to start the debate…

More about the contributors

Milli Hill:

Founder Positive Birth Movement Twitter: ‪@birthpositive

Editor Water Birth: stories to inspire and inform Twitter ‪@waterbirthbook

Birth Columnist for Best Mag Daily ‪@BestMagDaily

Blog: Twitter @Millihill

Elizabeth Prochaska:   

Lawyer, Matrix Chambers 

Founder: Birthrights Twitter @birthrightsorg

Professor Soo Downe OBE

Professor of Midwifery University of Central Lancashire 

Previous post interviewing Soo Downe

Dear Mum and Dad


Dear Mum and Dad,

Guess what? Next week Paul and I are going to Bermuda. It’s our turn-the last ones in our family-to visit this island of paradise. And what really excites me the most is that we’re hopefully going to retrace some of your steps, and see the things you saw for the first time, decades ago.

Our sister Sue (and John) have so generously invited us to stay with them in their apartment. Do you remember when the suggestion was made for you to go in the early 1970’s? Whilst we have been fortunate enough to  have visited many far flung places around the world, you had never ventured further than Blackpool for family holidays, in England. Outside England I think there was only an odd trip to Dad’s homeland, Ireland, and one holiday in the Isle of Man.

Because I can’t ask either of you, I wonder what did you feel like when the time came for you to go? I vaguely remember the excitement at home. You had never been on an aeroplane before, and I can imagine you thought that going to Bermuda was as remarkable as flying to the moon.  Sue and then boyfriend John gave you an experience of a lifetime, and you returned full of exciting tales about your adventure. With the help of music cassette tapes, you described the unique sound of the steel bands and calypso songs such as ‘yellow bird‘. paradise

When your photos were developed you showed us images of vibrant, colourful fish,  even more colourful cocktail drinks, turquoise sea, and blindingly sunny skies. I remember you telling us about eating ‘brunch’.  Like you, we’d never heard of the word. With gawping mouths we tried to imagine (but how could we?) the banquet style breakfast-come-lunch, with delight!


Being working class through and through, I’m sure you never dreamed of being in a position where you would visit anywhere as remotely exotic or as far away as Bermuda.  I wonder if you really knew where the island was in the world? Oh Jim and Kathleen, you didn’t know what was to come when you got home.

So sadly, eight years later, you died Dad, and left us. Too, too young. And there was more ill health and further sadness in store for the whole family.

But we’ll be thinking of you both as we step off the plane next week, and I’ll be humming the song you played non stop on your return- Bermuda is Another World

Loving you always, Sheena xx

Guest post: an interview with Professor Soo Downe OBE


Professor Soo Downe

During my career I have been inspired by, and aspired to be like, several midwives.

Professor Soo Downe is one of those, and I was incredibly fortunate to work closely with her during my role as a consultant midwife. Soo gave me confidence in my academic ability, and she fostered in me a sense of self worth. I remember hearing her giving a talk to several hundred midwives, and mentioning the work we did at East Lancashire Hospitals maternity service. I couldn’t believe it. She really thought we were doing great things as a maternity unit, and it gave us a great and much needed confidence boost. Soo Downe is a transformational leader, and shares her knowledge and skills for the greater good, and not to receive accolade or to gain power. I was delighted that she ‘agreed’ to do this guest post, because I know that every nano second in her day (and night) is taken up with family and work. I hope you enjoy this small glimpse into Soo’s amazing midwifery world.

Hi Soo, thanks for agreeing to chat to me here! Could you introduce yourself? Hello my name is Soo Downe, I am a midwife and I qualified  in 1985. At the moment I’m working as Professor of  Midwifery studies at the University Central Lancashire in the Research in Childbirth and Health (ReaCH) team. Our main area of research is around the nature and consequences of normal childbirth. When did you first become interested in becoming a midwife?

When I was at university in the late 1970’s, I had no intention of being a midwife at all. I was studying English literature and language, and beginning to wonder what to do with my life when all the years studying finally came to an end. In the middle of my degree studies, I found myself working at a maternity mission station in Bophuthatswana, which was a homeland in South Africa, at the time when the country was still suffering under apartheid. There was a long chain of events that led to me being there that is not worth going into, but the most important thing is I found myself watching women having babies quietly, peacefully with the loving support of the midwife nuns who were working there, with minimal resources, and, on reflection, no interventions that I can remember.

The labouring women were apparently completely unfazed by what was going on, and completely engaged in their labours. It came to me that, if we can get childbirth right, we can get the world right. It felt like a kind of road to Damascus experience, even though I’m not particularly religious. Having finished my 4 weeks in Africa, I came back and to finish my university studies, after which I worked for some months as a healthcare assistant at Guys Hospital in London. This was because I knew that midwifery was very unlikely to be the same in the UK as it was in the middle of a homeland in South Africa. Despite the differences, I still loved what I could see of the profession, so I applied to St Thomas’s Hospital in London to do nursing, because at that time I didn’t realise that you don’t have to be a nurse to the midwife. However, having been accepted on the nursing program, I found out that there were, at the time, two places in the country where you could become a midwife without having a nursing qualification. So I immediately applied to Derby City Hospital and that’s where I undertook my midwifery training. It was not at the level of a degree or even a diploma, it was just 3 years of midwifery theory, practice, and skills development, and it was the most difficult thing I’ve done; far harder than my academic qualifications, because it mattered so much to get right.

Once I qualified I worked for about more years on the labour ward at Derby City Hospital. The labour ward had about 5000 births a year, so it was very busy, with a fairly high rate of interventions, including the early adoption of routine fetal monitoring for all women. This raised a whole series of questions for me that started to push me towards undertaking research, to find out what the implications were of what was happening. By the time I left Derby city Hospital in the year 2000 to move into academia, I had been working in a joint clinical and research midwifery post for several years. What does a typical day in your working life look like?

Sadly, I am no longer working clinically, so my working day now is much less hands-on.  I work in a team of about 12 people, and they are divided into 2 separate but related groups,  one which I lead (the Research in Childbirth and Health group, ReaCH) and the other which is led by Prof Fiona Dykes (the Maternal and Infant Nurture and Nutrition group, MAINN). Much of our day is spent on the computer. This includes responding to hundreds of e-mails that come from all over the world from students and collaborators and colleagues, who are networking, writing papers, writing bids, and generally discussing questions of research and practice. More specific activities might involve writing a presentation for a national or international conference, meeting with one or two Ph.D. students to talk over the work they’re doing, talking to local midwives and doctors about the areas of research that might interest them, meeting with service users who are involved in some of our studies to discuss information leaflets, or how to disseminate research findings to a wide audience.

It might also involve the more frustrating bureaucracy that is growing all the time in higher education, just as it is in the health sector, including filling in large numbers of administration forms. I also attend a range of meetings, catch up with the work of team members,  review papers that have been submitted to journals or bids that other researchers have submitted to funding committees, or teach and supervise undergraduate or postgraduate students. Occasionally we get a bit of space to write an academic paper, or a bid, and the day includes great excitement when were awarded finally one of our bids (on average, for most academics, only about 1:10 bids are successful), or when one of our papers is finally accepted for publication, or when one of our students is awarded their qualification after all their hard work, or when the media contact us to find out about the results of one of our studies which might be significant in practice or policy for the future.

Fairly often I visit colleagues overseas, to give keynote lectures or to talk about future research projects. Indeed one of the really rewarding and reinforcing factors in my work life is a number of countries I visit where women and midwives and doctors and other stakeholders are saying the same thing:  we really need to get physiological birth right.

As you can see, it is extremely hard to sum up a typical day in this job! The main focus of your work in promoting and supporting the normal birth agenda, can you tell us why this is so important to you?

What has always fascinated me is the sense that the process of childbirth is far more than just getting a baby out. It is something that links us back through all our ancestors, and into the future, and we are all (mother, father, baby) irrevocably marked by it. It is also one of the few experiences left in society which, when undertaken physiologically, is ultimately unpredictable and uncontrollable and, as a consequence, deeply emotional. It takes all those who experience it authentically to the very edge of their capacity to cope, and it says to them, you can do this – and if you can do this, you can do anything. Getting it right is therefore profoundly important for the wellbeing of families, and for future generations. While I have always believed this intuitively, recent exciting evidence from epigenetics seems to suggest that there is biological evidence for the impact of labour and birth on way genes might be expressed for the child, and for their adulthood, and then their own children in the future. So, for all these reasons, the normal birth agenda is really important to me.

Sometimes ‘normal’ or ‘natural birth’ advocates are criticised for ‘encouraging unreal expectations’ for childbearing women. What do you think about that?

I think the best parallel here is with the breastfeeding debate. The reason women found it so hard to succeed in breastfeeding in previous generations was because of the insistence of maternity organisations on profoundly nonphysiological ways of managing breastfeeding. This meant that we had a whole generation of women who had ‘failed’ in breastfeeding, and so who could not help their daughters to do so; indeed, I suspect that some of them felt that, if their daughter did try to breastfeed, this was an implicit critique of their own ‘failure’. We are now in this situation with physiological labour and birth. We have a generation of grandmothers, and of friends of newly pregnant women, who cannot contemplate their daughter/friend having a baby without, for example an epidural. This has happened because we have created the circumstances in which it is very hard for women to have their babies without such technological help.

What makes the expectations for physiological labour and birth unreal is not women’s innate capacity by large (although of course for some women and babies there will always be a need to intervene). Unreal expectations only exist because we have setup maternity services to make them unreal. Where we create circumstances in which women are able to trust those around them to give them space to labour spontaneously the vast majority will succeed in labouring spontaneously and positively and even joyfully.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA   What are your plans for the future Soo?

It would be great to finish all the projects that I’ve started and that I haven’t yet had a chance to sort out or write-up!. However I think this is probably never going to happen – indeed, just getting to the bottom of my e-mail inbox would be a massive achievement, but again I don’t expect to achieve this before I retire in about 10 years time!. More seriously, the major piece of work I want to start with colleagues including Holly Kennedy from the USA and Hannah Dahlen from Australia is to look at how what happens during labour and birth influences the well-being of mothers, babies,  partners and families into the future, in terms of the epigenetic make-up of the neonate, long-term noncommunicable disease, and perhaps more importantly even, to find out what is about labour and birth that might help things to go right in the future for the baby and the family (see link). For example how,  is it that some women with a difficult personal or family obstetric or medical history, or difficult social history, still manage to have very positive empowering life affirming birth and others do not.  How many situations that are currently treated as  pathological, such as long gestation or long labour, are actually physiological for some women and babies in certain family contexts?. Ultimately, can we use this information to make the allegedly unreal expectations that women have at the moment real expectations, by changing the maternity services globally, so that it maximises the potential for the best possible outcomes to mothers and babies in the future?

And lastly….what motivates you to continue to champion the cause? All the factors above, I think! Aaaaa Thank you Soo, for this incredibly insightful interview. So many childbirth workers (and childbearing women) are grateful for your hard work, passion and dedication. You can contact Soo at Link to paper The EPIIC hypothesis: intrapartum effects on the neonatal epigenome and consequent health outcomes

Three babies and a party!


Myla, born 11th July 2013

It’s been a busy and exciting couple of weeks. It started with the birth of our sixth grandchild on the 11th of July, which was our other granddaughter’s Betsy’s 1st birthday.  Then it’s been babies all the way.

Our youngest daughter Olivia gave birth to her second baby, Myla, after several weeks of being unwell. We heaved an audible sigh of sheer relief, as well as tears of joy, as we cast eyes on a beautiful and tiny angel face.  As Myla was born early by Caesarean section, she could’ve been fragile.  Instead she was alert and responsive, and healthy. Olivia had amazing maternity care, and we are incredibly lucky. Tender, compassionate midwives and a trusted, expert obstetrician Liz Martindale ensured that our girl and her baby were happy and safe. So many heartfelt and everlasting thanks to you all.


Liz Martindale looks on as Myla enjoys 1st feed!

Then Prince George made his grand entrance, with such little fuss! As a midwife of more than 3 decades, I was delighted to see an unruffled, beautiful Duchess emerge from the Lindo Wing doors, hours after giving birth. Like many other midwives and birth supporters, the speculation on HOW baby George was born has been phenomenal. And of course it was speculation until today, when it emerged that Kate was attended by midwives, who facilitated the birth. And one of those midwives is an old friend of mine, and featured in my book, Catching Babies! I am so delighted that Kate had the normal, positive childbirth experience that she wanted.

APTOPIX Britain Royal Baby

Prince George July 2013

And on the same day, Sonny Ray was born in water at Blackburn Birth Centre. There was a double significance to Sonny’s birth, as I was the midwife who helped Amy (Sonny’s mummy) into the world 26 years previously, at a nearby birth centre (Bramley Meade). As Amy, Alex and Sonny are propelled to fame due to Royal ‘links’, I revel on how the world moves in mysterious ways, and the synergies and connections between people make life so intriguing and very wonderful.


Sonny Born 22nd July 2013

My reflections of the three births in a nutshell:

Olivia needed medical assistance for her pregnancy and birth, and it was available, thank God. Although her choices were limited, she was able to make some, and therefore she had a wonderfully positive experience. I am so proud of her.

Amy was born into my hands, and 26 years later gave birth in a birth centre that I helped to develop. Amy didn’t need medical help, and whilst she had many choices, she believed in her body’s ability and made the perfect decision for her, her partner, and her baby.

And Kate chose (or did she?) to have her baby in hospital, with medical support on hand even though she didn’t need it, yet the Queen had her four children at home.

So, Myla, Sonny and George have one thing in common. They were born in the same month, and their parents are happy and healthy. I wonder what their lives will bring?

PS And lastly, I was at a very successful launch of the parent led ‘Birth in East Lancs’ website on Thursday evening…you can read about it here!

PRECIOUS CARGO-the birth of an important project

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Just recently I was contacted by Ron Common, asking me to help with an exciting fundraising project, bringing student midwives and midwives from around the world together. Ron told me:

‘Midwives around the world shape the beginnings of a person’s life and it’s a sad fact that a great many people globally still do not have easy access to a trained health professional at crucial times in life, such as during pregnancy, birth and the early years of childhood.
This collaborative project aims to send a beautifully decorated scroll around the world to collect as many signatures as possible. The scroll is one of the oldest forms of written communication in history, having played a major role in shaping our world today, so there is no better way to celebrate one of the oldest professions in the world – midwifery!  The Precious Cargo project and scroll’s aim is to raise awareness of access to healthcare for all in promotion of maternal and child health, alongside raising funds to help Motorcycle Outreach expand its mission to improve health care delivery to remote areas of developing countries.’Motorcycle Outreach’s current project and its wonderful outcomes can be seen on their WEBSITE
In order for our project to be a huge success, we are looking for as many members/student midwives/midwives to get involved and support us on this project.


There are 3 main ways to get involved:
-Raising awareness of the project within your local hospitals, clinical centres and universities and organise to get as many signatures on the scroll as possible within your local area/maternity unit
– Organising fundraising events and/or sponsorship (to raise funds and awareness of the project)
– Signing the scroll when it travels to your area and make a donation
We are also looking for a number of volunteers to act as regional coordinators to help us manage the project. We feel that this is a valuable opportunity to help improve maternity services worldwide, alongside undertaking a unique opportunity which may, in turn, be used within supporting statements and PREP requirements in the future!
The UK section of the scroll will be 20 meters long – enough for 10,000 signatures.
Its borders will be decorated with colourful drawings by patients of the Children’s Hospital and interspersed with messages from midwives about “what being a midwife means to them. The scroll’s journey will commence in the UK with a tour of approximately  55 hospitals around England, Scotland & Wales.  (Students attend 196 centres but time doesn’t allow us to visit them all).Selection of the hospitals to be visited will be based on the location of the volunteers engaged in the project. (A schedule of each hospital visit will be published in advance).The start point will be Hampton Court Palace, London on 7th September 2013 and last for up to 55 days (allowing 1 day for each hospital being visited).In the weeks leading up to each hospital visit, students/midwives are encouraged to raise awareness of the project at their hospital and, if possible, undertake local fund-raising events.

A team of motorcyclists will courier the scroll from hospital to hospital on a daily basis.

Drop off and collection times will be published in advance.

For each delivery, a “lead” rider will hand the scroll to a student midwife on arrival at the hospital for safe-keeping and to facilitate the signing of the scroll during its 24 hour visit.

We are in the process of creating a dedicated website for the project that will included a “scroll tracker”, blog pages, space for photos etc.

The UK leg of the tour is being used as a “pilot” for the Rest of the World tour.

If the UK leg is successful then it is anticipated that the process will be replicated in at least 40 other countries around the world – so we REALLY want to give it our best shot. The UK will be the “standard-bearer” for other countries to follow.To add a bit of extra spice , an application has been made to the Guinness World Records for a world record attempt at “the most signatures on an item” .We’re very passionate about this project and we hope to get as many people involved who care about midwifery as possible.
For more information either visit the SMNET website or contact one of the project managers:
Ron Common email:
Kelly Silk email:
Ron said: I hope that student midwives and midwives in the UK see that this is a great opportunity for them to make a direct and personal contribution to improve the delivery of mother and child health care around the world, and inspire an international initiative that will eventually impact hundreds of thousands of people.  The scroll is the thread that links us all together and will become the symbol of our united mission.
Hope you can get involved, I certainly will!
By sheenabyrom

‘The facts behind the print’ Sudden Infant Death Syndrome: Professor Helen Ball

Professor Helen Ball
As usual, the media recently succeeded in increasing the fear of new parents, in relation to infant sleeping and bed sharing with baby. Oh my word. Those of us working or who have worked in field sigh with frustration, but the flurry of panic amongst those with babes in arms is almost palpable. In addition, the Department of Health has instructed the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) to undertake an extraordinary review of the section of the postnatal care guideline (CG 37) on reducing the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). As I was on the original postnatal care guideline development group, my opinion is being sought.
Thank goodness we have sensible experts in the field, who are able to shed light on the real facts behind the print. You are about to meet one!
I have been fortunate enough to hear Professor Helen Ball speak about the topic of safe bed sharing and SIDS on a few occasions at conferences, and I am delighted that she agreed to be interviewed for my blog.
Hi Helen, thanks for agreeing to chat to me here! Could you introduce yourself?
Hi Sheena, I am Professor of Anthropology at Durham University and Director of the Parent-Infant Sleep Lab. This is my 20th year at Durham!
When did you first become interested in infant sleep patterns? 
I started reading academic research about infant sleep in 1992 while I was pregnant with my first child. I didn’t start thinking about researching infant sleep myself then, however. At the time I had recently finished my PhD in primatology and was living in the US and lecturing part-time. A few years later, after I had been appointed as a lecturer at Durham, and I was pregnant with my 2nd child, I decided I wanted to switch to a research field that didn’t require overseas fieldwork, and could be done closer to home — and the idea to study infant sleep was born!
What does your average working day consist of?
It begins with an hour’s commute from my home in Northumberland to the Anthropology Dept in Durham, or slightly longer to the  University’s Queen’s Campus in Stockton, which is where the Sleep Lab is located. Depending on whether it is a ‘Durham day’ or a ‘Stockton day’ I might be teaching undergrads or postgrads, supervising research students, participating in Dept management meetings, or meeting with my lab manager Charlotte about research projects, grant applications, papers we might be writing, or updates to the ISIS (Infant Sleep Info Source) website. 
What do you think of the latest media response to the release of evidence in relation to SIDS?
The recent Carpenter paper is simply one more piece of information that adds to an ongoing academic debate between researchers who are attempting to clarify the factors involved in unexpected and unexplained infant deaths. Unfortunately as it is an emotive topic the media is quick to publicise any new piece of information about SIDS research while other topics that are not newsworthy continue their academic arguments in private. The stories don’t help parents or health care staff attempting to advise them though, as the media stories tend to generate more heat than light around the topic and cause confusion. When sufficient evidence has been amassed that indicate one of the recommendations should be changed around SIDS, then the experts are consulted for their views and all the evidence is considered. In this case the media fuss was about an issue that actually has very little impact on actual SIDS rates (bedsharing by breastfeeders, which is an already very low risk group) and diverted attention from the really risky issues such as smoking, bedsharing in hazardous sleep environments such as sofas, and the effects of alcohol and drug impairment on parental ability to ensure safe infant sleep environments. We have issued a response to the paper itself on the ISIS website.
As a midwife, I find some of the information for parents on infant sleep and SIDS confusing, and frequently scary. What are your thoughts?
It is very difficult to understand how you might keep babies safe from something that appears to cause them to die with no apparent explanation. The prospect of your baby dying unexpectedly in their sleep is a very scary — but there is a lot of research evidence now to help us pinpoint what might increase the risk of this happening, and how it might be avoided. The biggest success has been with sleep position — when parents were advised to sleep their babies on their back, the SIDS rates plummeted. People are now hoping for another simple piece of advice to be equally effective, but it doesn’t seem as though there are any other ‘magic bullets’. The remaining risks are far more complex and difficult to change (such as smoking). Some fears around the risks associated with bedsharing have caused authorities in different locations to promote scary campaigns aimed at frightening parents away from bed-sharing. These have been heavily criticised for being insensitive to bereaved parents, for fear-mongering, and for creating a climate in which parents lie to their health care providers about bedsharing, and health care staff avoid discussing bedsharing safety and contraindications with parents. These campaigns have also proved ineffective in reducing SIDS. I would suggest we now need more tailored education for parents that can allow them to consider the risks that may affect their baby and make relevant care decisions.
Screen Shot 2013-07-04 at 21.24.29
The media obviously has great influence on behaviours. How best do you think we can steer the information to support parents?

One of the reasons we created the ISIS  website was to ensure there was a reliable source of research info on infant sleep that parents and health professionals could refer to, and where they could find information explaining the controversies and things they should consider in weighing up the evidence. It would be much less confusing for parents if the media hype around parenting stories did not try to polarise issues around infant care such as infant feeding and sleep behaviour. There is far more agreement among the ‘experts’ in this field than disagreement, but one wouldn’t know this from reading some of the media stories!

What are your plans for the future Helen?
In less than a month I will become the first woman to be the Head of Anthropology at Durham!
And lastly….what motivates to continue to champion the cause?
I believe strongly that parents should be provided with information they can use to make their own decisions about infant care. So many parents and health professionals contact me to ask questions and seek clarification that I am very aware there is an unmet need for information and education on infant sleep. Many of their questions address issues we don’t presently have research to base answers on. I have always felt that as an academic it was important to conduct research that was useful to others, addressed questions that were relevant to non-academics, and would be used by the real world. With our infant sleep research we are achieving this, which makes it worthwhile!

 Thank you so much Helen for taking time out of your busy and important schedule to feature here. AND CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR NEW POST and massive achievement! Wonderful and much deserved success. I wish you lots of luck and send best wishes for the future, and enormous grattitude for the advice and support you give to us all, as health professionals and parents. 


You can find Helen on Twitter @IsisOnline1

By sheenabyrom

Catching Babies: a gift for the Duchess of Cambridge

Catching Babies


I wonder how Kate is feeling. I can remember being at this stage in my pregnancy with my first baby @abglyph, and not feeling at all caught up in the ‘fear of childbirth‘ that now sadly prevails our culture. I often ask myself when did it all happen, this shift in women’s self-belief that they can birth their baby?

I recently asked a 93 year old ex-midwife if she remembered whether women were afraid of childbirth in her days of practise, and she was clear that they weren’t. ‘Oh no, women didn’t seem to be at all frightened of having babies, it was an everyday occurrence. The only thing they worried about was paying the bill!’ That of course was pre NHS, and most babies were born at home. Most women now give birth in hospital, and ironically as medical surveillance increases in the name of safety…

View original post 448 more words

By sheenabyrom

Midwifery in the NHS: my opinion

Those who know me well will confirm that I have spent most of my 35 years as a midwife, pushing for change to improve care. Just last week I was asked for my opinion of current NHS midwifery services, for a TV programme claiming to be supporting the cause for more midwives. Whilst I haven’t worked in the NHS for more than two years, I am in constant contact with midwives in the Trust where I worked for all my career, and with midwives and student midwives throughout the UK.
So these are some of the questions I was asked, and my brief responses. I would love to know your thoughts too, via the comments box at the end of the post.
How do you feel the role of a midwife has changed from when you first went into the profession? (Staff numbers, continuity of care etc)
The work of a midwife is significantly different now, in terms of workload pressures as a result of inadequate staffing levels, medical and social complexities of women’s pregnancies, increased UNNECESSARY intervention rates, service models and bureaucracy. So much has impacted on maternity services, and midwives are increasingly under pressure due to the afore mentioned, and also due to fear of recrimination. Lack of understanding of the purpose and use of clinical guidelines, and activities related to Clinical Negligence Scheme for Trusts (CNST) has added to midwifery workloads, and the fear factor.
Because of excessive workload issues, midwives have less time to spend with women, and this in itself is stressful, and demoralising. Midwives (and obstetricians) increasingly practice defensively, over treating those in their care because of fear of recrimination or litigation. It’s the ‘just in case‘ scenario.
Maternity services feel to be entirely focused on the reduction of  ‘risk’, which has the potential to cause more harm. Over medicalisation of childbirth can lead to iatrogenic damage, and it seems the more maternity services focus on safety and risk the more worried and frightened women become.
Pressure to save money in the NHS is taking it’s toll on maternity services, and because there are few Trust targets for maternity, the service is more likely to be bypassed. Maternity services’ position within an NHS organisation’s budget or profile isn’t a priority, and therefore departments such as medicine and surgery frequently take precedence (in terms of resources).
Women didn’t seem to be as fearful of childbirth during my early years as a midwife, and whilst services weren’t ideal, (i.e. we had moved from home birth to hospital birth for all women without any evidence to suggest we should!) in the main women believed in themselves, and their ability to birth their baby. As we have ‘done to’ women, increased screening, focused on reducing risk, we have increasingly disempowered women.
What are the main concerns for midwives today?
Lack of time to do their work well, fear of recrimination (getting into trouble).
Do you think midwives today are over stretched and unable to perform their role sufficiently? Or does this depend on the hospital in which you work? 
This is addressed above. I think in the main midwives are overstretched. There are some services with exemplary models of care for women, where midwives, obstetricians and mothers feel respected, valued and able to do their work even if it is busy. We must highlight those services and channel energies into getting it right for all families.
And do you feel there is sufficient postnatal care in place for women? 
Postnatal care is suffering due to lack of human resources, and because of the focus on risk, areas of the service where ‘risk’ is deemed to be greatest (delivery suite/labour ward) takes priority. Because of increased unnecessary intervention in the antenatal and intrapartum period, postnatal wards are busier too. Bed reduction programmes in NHS organisations significantly reduced ability for women to stay until feeding is established, so women get little support to breast feed. Postnatal care in the community is reducing due to pressure on resources. This is a great pity as the lack of support potentially leads to morbidities that cost more for the NHS.
There is no resemblance to the postnatal care I delivered on postnatal wards during the first half of my career, to latterly. This is because there are more:
-Operative births
-Babies who need extra monitoring due to an issue that was potentially caused by mode of birth, or choices made.
– Excessive use of antibiotics on neonates (‘just in case’), and the extra input needed from staff.
– Excessive record keeping activity and paper work
Did you ever experience or see women’s lives being put in danger because of a lack of resources? 
This is hard to determine. Midwives and doctors always try to do their best, and usually go way beyond the call of duty. Sometimes, however, the pressure on staffing is so great that women receive substandard support and care, usually by way of time spent with them. The potential for harm is always greater when there aren’t enough midwives to care for women, at any given moment.
Could I also gain a bit more information about your career as a Midwife – how many years you were in the profession? What you liked / disliked about the role?
I worked as a midwife for more than 35 years in the NHS, and continue to work freelance, mostly on a voluntary basis. I feel immensely privileged and honoured to have been part of each woman’s journey into motherhood, and to have worked with the most inspirational teams. Women, both those I cared for and worked with, never fail to amaze me with their courage, strength and determination. Whilst working in the NHS I loved most of my work as a midwife, and grossly disliked the pressure and desperation when unable to help women, and midwives.
There is so much to do. The Royal College of Midwives continue to lobby for more midwives, and a group of well respected activists are pushing for better continuity of care, amongst other things related to Maternity Services. We mustn’t give up.
What do you think?

What Twitter did, and what student midwives say!


It’s been a while since I started using Twitter. It was my daughter, @abglyph and her lovely chappy @gazcook who stirred my interest. I don’t know how it all happened, but now most of my days involve ‘tweeting’ or ‘chirping’, and the result is I am increasingly connected with like minded folks across the globe.  Not only am I in touch with inspirational leaders from nursing and midwifery,  but NHS CEO’s such as Lisa Rodrigues @LisaSaysThis  and Mark Newbold @drmarknewbold always have great information to share. I communicate with local GPs, and Stuart Berry @StuartBerry1 is one of them. Stuart and I have never met, but we have some similar interest and can promote each others’ work through Twitter channels. Amazing. Interestingly, Stuart posted this  about the use of Twitter this morning. Great stuff!

There isn’t a week goes by when I’m not contacted by individuals asking me for help and support, or inviting me to speak at study days an other events. I am particularly happy with this, as it helps me to share expertise gained by working in the NHS for 35 years.

Last week was a particularly busy week, and almost everything that I did was either initiated or organised via Twitter! I happened to be in London, for some ‘away time’ with the Trustees of the Iolanthe Midwifery Trust on Saturday…and then the fun started.


Posing with Alison Baum, outside Best Beginnings office!

On Monday  morning I met with the wonderful Alison Baum from Best Beginnings, to see how I could help her with the amazing new smartphone app for new parents. This all came about when I retweeted a short film about the app, and Alison asked to see me. I visited Alison’s office and we didn’t pause for breath for two hours. Lots of ideas and plans…including a small package to be sent to the Duchess of Cambridge! Take a look at this film to learn more about the Bump Buddy app….

I then scurried to St Pancras to meet Murray Chick (yes that’s his real name). Murray is the owner and brainchild of Britain’s Nurses, and I LOVE the site. Again, this opportunity was made via Twitter, I found the site there, and made some enquiries. Incredibly easy, and so effective! Previous to this meeting, and through Twitter, @Britainsnurses picked up two of my blogs to share with nurses for International Nurses Day! Sorry about that @gbutcher17!

The day after I went to Kings College London again to meet a group of wonderfully enthusiastic and very smily  positive student midwives, organised via Twitter following a lovely invite by student midwife Natalie Buschman @Birthsandmore. It wasn’t the first time Natalie and I connected and made a plan via Twitter; she also took up the challenge to do the Prudential Ride London, in aid of the  Iolanthe Midwifery Trust, after seeing me advertise the opportunity on Twitter! Great work Natalie! If you want to sponsor Natalie, and thereby support the Iolanthe Midwifery Trust, you can do so here!

After being with the students I ran round the corner to enjoy lunch with three formidably inspirational women: Maggie Howell @MaggieHowell from Natal Hypnotherapy , Independent Midwife extraordinaire Pam Wild @Pamoneuk  and journalist Beverley Turner @BeverleyTurner . What a treat. Again…lot’s to chat about and plan in limited time…and it all started with Twitter!


L-R Maggie, Me, Beverley and Pam

And then a couple of weeks ago Dean Beaumont @DaddyNatal from Daddy Natal, invited me to review his book…’The Expectant Dad’s Handbook’  on Twitter. We exchanged contact details through the direct message function, and voila! The book plopped through my letterbox and was avidly devoured within a few days. The book, by the way, is spot on. Sensible and sensitive…with great advice for all Dads-to be. I will be writing a review Dean!

I have the feeling that my Twitter support of StudentMidwife.Net went some way to their decision to invite me to be their Patron. Whoop! What a privilege and an opportunity. Also, through Twitter I saw an chance to be involved with @WeNurses, by running regular @WeMidwives chats…which has been a steep learning curve! This has really given a new voice to Midwifery.

And then there’s the fabulous Doulas. I ‘met’ many of them through Twitter, and we connect so regularly I feel like I know some of them well, even though I have never seen them in person.  There are too many Doula friends to mention here, but you know who you are! (I’ll probably cause offence if I miss anyone out!). Through Twitter, I have come to know and appreciate your valuable contribution to childbirth.

And of course this isn’t just all about me. I couldn’t ask many, but these two student midwives have had opportunities too, through using Twitter:

Student Midwife @Li33ieBee said -‘Via Twitter I have had articles proofread by experts and been sent hard to find research papers’.

Sarah Tuke @sazzletastic told me- I have become a more compassionate ‘put hands on’ midwife after reading quotes from Sheila Kitzinger at a conference to put hands on to reassure to increase oxytocin. It works! Wouldn’t have known about what she said without tweeting from that conference as I couldn’t make it 🙂


But there aren’t many midwives using Twitter, and there are still a considerable number of individuals and organisations that are fearful of using social media.  I know that several health professionals have lost their jobs or places at University, due to inappropriate postings. But this is a pity. There’s lots of guidance out there, and with common sense you really can avoid the pitfalls.


Tips for Social Media found at

Need help?

Check out the Nursing and Midwifery Council guidance on the use of social media 

The NHS Social Media site has lots of useful tips

Guidance for NHS Caremakers is useful for all health care professionals

Here are some great folks to follow or connect with:

Sarah Stewart- Midwife Educator and Professional Development Officer with Australian College of Midwives @SarahStewart (and quite a whizz with social media matters)

Jacque Gerrard -Director for England Royal College of Midwives @jacquegerrard

Mark Newbold -Chief Executive of Heart of Birmingham FT @drmarknewbold

Anne Cooper -Nurse working in informatics interested in leadership @anniecoops

Teresa Chinn-Nurse and social media specialist @AgencyNurse

And if you are unsure about what Twitter is, and why or how it would be useful to you, @pam007nelmes is a social media expert, AND she believes kindness is magic which for me, is the best. Pam is worth following as she has lots of tips! Here is one of Pam’s presentations-Social Media for Nurses Oct 2012

For me, Twitter brings fabulous worthwhile interactions with others, the sharing of current and interesting news or information, and unique and exciting opportunities. And every now and then, there’ll be a gem that pops up, such as Molly Case’s inspirational poem, read by her at the RCN Congress 2013.

So, last night I asked several student midwives who are already engaged with Twitter, what benefits they felt it brought them…and here are a few of their ‘tweet responses’ back to me!

@dawn_t12‘Twitter for me is invaluable as a student. It keeps me updated on news/new research/study days, but more than that it’s another form of support. I love that through twitter I’ve made friends with people at different unis in different towns and we help each other through the bad days and celebrate the good. It’s just sad some students & midwives are missing out on this world!’

@Beetrooter‘Twitter brings fellowship with ppl passionate about midwifery from across the world & across spectrum of professional roles. Its my inspiration for learning, gives evidence to inform my practice, rolemodels for me to aspire. Instant access to womens’ experience jubilant/ anguish. Twitter is conversations. It’s life squished beautifully into 140 characters’.

@Birthsandmore -‘great way to broaden mind, horizon and tweet with like minded people you otherwise would not have met. t lifts my spirit to read and hear from so many passionate people, especially after a tough day ‘at the office’!

@Josie_jo_F-‘from a v.small Uni, twitter gives me a chance to find out what happens in other trusts, have contact with other SMs, learn from MWs, lecturers&other inspirational ppl I’d never meet in my isolated neck o’the woods.glad to have found this community’

@sazzletastic-People on twitter have been an amazing support to me throughout my 3rd yr studying giving me encouragement and reassurance to keep going and have confidence in my knowledge and abilities. Having access to organisations and big names in the field that actually reply to you is brilliant! I’ve learnt so much via twitter, I only wish I’d had it for the first 2yrs of study too!

So, come on midwives and student midwives….Twitter has so much to offer. Facebook keeps you in touch with friends, but Twitter helps you find those you would never have met, who hold the potential to open up a new world for you! As student midwife Hana Ruth Abel  @Hana_Studentmid so eloquently puts it:
Twitter is the thread that binds me across the globe, weaving me into the fabric of international midwifery & making me a piece of the puzzle that builds up a global voice, I am an equal part of that voice. Ever changing and pushing myself to grow with a community of individuals who share my philosophy and question practice. Twitter shines a light on every end of the spectrum. United we stand on our virtual platform- Speaking up and stepping forward, one tweet at a time’. 
Wow Hana!

Social Media Posting Guide

‘Who’s got the pan?’ A precious piece of midwifery history.


Prince Charles at the opening of Edith Watson Maternity Unit 1968. Joan Fenton talking to him, whilst Miss Rishworth (Head of Midwifery) looks on!’

‘So, did you ride a bicycle when you worked in the community as a midwife?’ asked Prince Charles. ‘No! Not in Manchester. We couldn’t as our wheels would go in the tram lines!’ That was Miss Joan Fenton’s answer when the Prince came to open the Edith Watson Maternity Unit in Burnley, in 1968.

Miss Fenton as she was fondly known when I worked at this same maternity unit in the 1970’s, was the lovely ‘Nursing Officer’ described in my book, Catching Babies. She had (and still has!) the most compelling twinkling eyes, was strict but jolly, and she always called us by our surnames. I loved working under her leadership as a pupil midwife, and when newly qualified.

Joan Fenton is now 93. We haven’t seen each other for more than 30 years, and became connected again when she read my book, by chance. I went to see her this week in her home;  the same house I once collected her from when giving her a lift to work, in 1978. I had the most amazing two hours. We chatted about times gone by, and I asked her a few questions. Here’s a small glimpse of  what she told me.

‘I began working as a nurse’s help in 1936, when I was 16 years old. I had to leave my home, and live in the accommodation provided at the hospital.  The hospital was at Lostock Hall in Preston and was a ‘continuation hospital’ where patients, mainly children, went to convalesce.  I loved it. I remember my work involved cleaning only, there was no contact at all with patients! The Matron was strict, but we all respected her. When I was 18 I went to Wigan to do State Registered Nurse training. It was a four year programme in those days, and the first year was spent mainly in the sluice cleaning bed pads! It was never questioned, and felt like a real privilege. I also polished all the sliver and brass accessories in the sluice, bathrooms and kitchens. Student nurses didn’t have contact with patients until the second year of training, and we looked forward to that moment with great excitement’.

‘We worked 72 hours per week, starting at 6.30 until 8pm, and although we had two hours off in the afternoon one was spent having a lecture, and the other writing it up! We got a half day off only each week, but we had to be back at the nurses home by 9pm. We had to get special permission to go to the pictures to the 1st house, which was at 6pm. My salary was 5 shillings per week, £12 per year.’

‘Once a month, on our half day, we were allowed to go home. My Mum used to wait at the train station for me, and we would be so excited to see each other. I had to be back by 9pm, so time was precious. She used to say “Let’s go and get some Clifton’s Chocolates!”  They were expensive, and I knew my family couldn’t afford them really, but it was our treat’.

‘Once qualified, I went straight to St Mary’s in Manchester to do my midwifery training. It was done in two parts; Part 1 was in the hospital (which was then actually opposite the Palace Theatre in Oxford Rd) and Part 2  was on the district. The areas I worked in was Ancoats and Beswick.


Ancoats, Manchester

Joan saw it all. Extreme poverty, the blackouts of the Second World War, forceps being used at home, and a Caesarian Section being performed on the kitchen table. She told me of the lifesaving exchange transfusions that were carried out on Rhesus negative babies (before Anti D). ‘Most women had their babies at home’, she said, ‘and there was no fear of birth. Women just got on with it, and birth was viewed as an every day event. There had to be a real  necessity to do Caesarian Section, and women weren’t rushed! I don’t know what’s happening these days, everyone’s rushed!’

‘Everyone helped each other, and there was no money. It was before the NHS of course and women had to pay for the delivery. Women having their first baby paid two pounds (because it took longer) and subsequent babies cost £1.10 shillings’. ‘Did you get the money’? I asked. ‘NO! Did I fiddle’ Joan proclaimed ‘it went to the authorities! I had a book, and collected the money every Monday morning. Some women couldn’t afford to pay me, and I felt bad when I had to keep asking them for it. The poverty was bad. Families shared a pan (to boil the hot water for the birth) between three families. The first thing we said when we got to a house with a labouring woman was “Where’s the pan?” We had to call the police to get it if it was in the night, we weren’t allowed to disturb others without that authority.’

‘I was so happy. I loved my job even though I was tired and hardly had any recreational time. We didn’t get married because our job was everything to us. I lived and breathed it.’

When it was time to leave Joan, I asked her if she thought the ‘Call the Midwife’ programme was a good representative of those years. ‘Oh yes!’ she said. ‘Although my time began much before that!’ And it did. There won’t be many more opportunities to capture these memories, and record the history of our midwifery profession.

I am delighted I had some time with you Joan. You are here forever now.


Ancoats Photo

Childbirth and the language we use: does it really matter?


Yesterday several student midwives tweeted about their dislike of some of the language used in maternity services.

I hate the phrase “failure to progress” it’s so disempowering’ was one comment. And “trial of scar”’ was another phrase tweeters disapproved of. Indeed.

It’s an old issue. I remember in the early 1990’s the Head of Midwifery (Pauline Quinn) where I worked saying how she didn’t like the use of the word ‘patient’ as she felt it disempowered women. She also disliked women who used maternity services being called ‘ladies’, as she thought it patronising and it reminded her of ladies at the golf club! And in addition to that, could saying  ‘she’s one of my ladies’ be an even bigger crime, even though unintentional? The woman doesn’t really belong to anyone, does she?

Mrs Quinn interestingly also changed our midwifery titles, and dropped the use of ‘sister’ and ‘staff midwife’, as she believed it potentially influenced the midwife-mother relationship by establishing a defined hierarchy.

These ideas really made me think. I was always careful from then on to consider the words I used. I listened to others, and read interesting articles on the topic. I became more and more aware, and talked to others about it.

The words ‘Not allowed’ became intolerable. Hearing women saying ‘They wouldn’t let me go over my dates’ started to sadden me.

Other examples:

She told me I was only 3cms’ instead of ‘Wow! You are 3cms! Your body is working brilliantly!’

Using the name Labour Ward, or Central Delivery Suite instead of Birth Suite.

The list goes on.

Research carried out into the power of language in relation to infant feeding suggested that midwives used language that influenced decision making to what the midwife wanted rather than words that enabled the woman to make her own choices. Interestingly, the study’s (Furber and Thompson 2000) implications for practice confirmed my managers beliefs from all those years ago:

‘It is important that the language used when interacting with women is considered carefully in order to facilitate an unbiased perspective and to promote partnership. The word ‘women’, rather than ‘girls’ or ‘ladies’, should be used when referring to users of the maternity services.

Working in the same organisation, decades later, things were different. From time to time my colleagues would ask me, ‘does using different words really matter Sheena? We don’t mean harm and what we do is more important than what we say. We have enough to worry about!’ But my answer was (and is) it does matter. Because what we say and how we say it, influences what we do. If we are mindful of the language we use ( i.e. facilitate not teach, share instead of educate) we are thinking about the relationship we have with women and families and our actions will reflect that. Being with, not doing to. It doesn’t take much effort, and needs no extra resources.

See the photograph at the beginning of this post? The use of the word ‘BORN’ instead of ‘DELIVERED’ on the Birth Suite board to let staff know the woman has given birth? This is the result of a couple of committed (and strong!) midwives thinking about the language they used and the consequential impact on care. They started the ball rolling and although there was much opposition, years later it’s regular practice. It makes my heart sing.

So maternity care workers. Words do matter. To you and to all in earshot of you.

Lead the shift in your workplace even though it may take years for others to follow. Remember Pauline Quinn OBE, and golf. Make a difference, and

Be the change you want to see!’ (Ghandi)



Furber CM, Thomson AM (2010) The power of language: a secondary analysis of a qualitative study exploring English midwives’ support of mother’s baby-feeding practice Midwifery Volume 26, Issue 2, April 2010, Pages 232–240


Some content on this page was disabled on April 12, 2018 as a result of a DMCA takedown notice from Shaun Shane. You can learn more about the DMCA here:

Childbirth and infant feeding: why the war?


The polarisation of opinion with regard to these topics is growing by the minute…and there is much to debate. For this post my thoughts are focused on childbirth, although both subjects are absolutely interlinked.

My initial response when I read condemnations for those who promote and support normal physiological childbirth or breastfeeding is of sadness and shame. Sadness that there has potentially been some degree of personal distress for the one proclaiming their opinion. Shame that my profession is often part of the ‘problem.’

I see and hear opposing yet valid viewpoints about childbirth on almost a daily basis, mainly via blogs, Facebook and Twitter. We are all entitled to our opinion, and it’s good that there can now be a degree of open debate via social media channels. The problem arises when journalists and high profile individuals sensationalise a particular topic through mass media, basing their opinion on their personal experience. This can be inadvertently damaging, especially when related to childbirth.

Kirstie Allsopp’s response to the recent ‘too posh to push’ coverage in the Telegraph is an example of this. I can fully understand Kirstie’s retaliation to the implications that the Caesarean Section (CS) rate is higher in middle class areas, there may be something personal in that. The fact may have an element of truth, but the reasons for the increasing unnecessary intervention and related CS rates aren’t as simple as this. There are other suggestions for the relentless shift.

As stated in the Telegraph article, and in opposition to what the article headline actually suggests, women choosing to have major surgery instead of giving birth naturally are in the minority, and if there is a request is it usually for a very valid reason, usually associated with unprecedented fear.

Instead, the evidence and debate on the declining normal birth rate points to factors such as increasing maternal age, complexities of pregnancy, increased numbers of multiple pregnancies due to assisted conception, lack of senior doctors to make decisions on birth suite, low midwifery numbers, midwifery skill mix, focus on risk factors, women’s uninformed choices, inappropriate use of clinical ‘guidelines’….the list goes on.

For decades, childbearing women have been marginalised. I witnessed this during the thirty plus years I worked as a midwife, as did (and still do) my midwifery colleagues throughout the UK and beyond. Women’s belief in their ability to birth their babies is declining rapidly as a result of unnecessary medicalisation in maternity care. This was recognised as a growing problem more than thirty years ago, and midwifery organisations such as the Association of Radical Midwives and service user organisations such as the National Childbirth Trust thankfully and successfully campaigned for change.

Whilst practices of unnecessary medical intervention in the childbirth process continues globally, there is a continued and renewed uprising; women, midwives and obstetricians are recognising the potential consequential harm to mother and baby. Childbearing women in particular are the catalyst for change. Instead of remaining afraid, women are forming organisations to support parents to be, such as The Birth I Want, The Positive Birth Movement, One World Birth and Birthrights. Doctors and Midwives are active too. I imagine if Kirstie was having her babies twenty years ago she would been amongst those initial radicals campaigning for change. But with the drive and energy for change comes expectations of parents, and when those expectations aren’t reached for whatever reason, disappointment seems to initiate the need to blame instead of pursuing further change.


The topic is a complex one. But take a look at the chart here. The Caesarean section rate is increasing, and the normal birth rate decreasing. This alarming fact isn’t matched with improved health for mother and baby, in fact I would suggest it has had the opposite effect.

So, are we wrong to try to influence the way babies are born? I think not. But instead of arguing and blaming others, women, men and families must try to move together. The evidence is stacked high that where birth is as close to nature as possible, where women are cared for respectfully and her caregivers are respected then maternal and child health is at it’s best. Some women need intervention. Both my daughters did, and it was life saving. But we are now in a danger zone where medical advances are replacing nature, and that causes harm and was never meant to be.

So come on. Women are not ‘too posh to push’. They are strong and powerful, and if they are given respectful and supportive maternity care they will flourish as women and as mothers. But they need to know and understand the evidence behind the implications of some of the choices they make, and that others try to make for them. Those providing that information and encouraging them to achieve their goal does not mean they have a ‘luddite obsession’ and they are not the purporters of guilt. Midwives are feeling more desperate for change by the day, and they need women (and their partners) to help them to reverse the trend.

Let’s get together Kirstie, and see what we can do.

Childbirth chart BirthChoiceUK

Photograph copyrighted to SevernJonesPhotography

A day for mothers….


It’s a funny thing, Mother’s Day. It’s today in England, yet I am in Australia and the day is celebrated later in the year, as in America and some European countries.

What is the meaning of the occasion? I know there are many that think it to be a commercial ploy to sell cards and gifts which profit only manufacturers and retail outlets. But I am not so cynical, and not really bothered about such negativities.

Even though I have four children and love to hear from them on Mother’s Day, I really just like to think about my mother, Kathleen. My sister took this photograph of our beautiful mum many years after she suffered a cruel and debilitating stroke, rendering her disabled and unable to speak. She lived until her late 80’s….and spent more than 20 years locked in her body and without the means to tell us how she felt, or what she really needed. Writing my book, Catching Babies, helped me to keep Mum’s spirit alive, but how I wish I was sending her a loving wish today just to see those smiling eyes shine and sparkle with happiness. I know all my sisters feel the same too. We so miss you mum.

Yesterday a florist arrived at the door of my niece’s home in Barwon Heads, Victoria. ‘These are for Sheena Byrom‘ the man said. Flowers and a lovely card from my two daughters back in England. They couldn’t see my eyes shining with happiness, but they’ll read this and know that they did.

One happy mother.


Flowers for Mother’s Day. Thank you Anna and Olivia x