The National Childbirth Trust are not to blame….


Kirstie Allsopp’s recent criticism of the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) is very sad indeed, but I am afraid it’s yet another sign of the times. The article in The Telegraph strikes me as another ‘who can I blame?’ dialogue that is usually focused on breastfeeding. But this misguided condemnation of an organisation that has for decades campaigned, championed and worked very hard to support positive childbirth outcomes through supporting information sharing to expectant couples isn’t helpful. 

I have been a midwife for 35 years. During that time midwives (including me) and doctors have unwittingly and relentlessly nudged childbirth from a social family centred occasion towards an increasingly perceived ‘risky’ medical event, and now women are fearful of giving birth and reliant on unnecessary medical intervention. 

The article reminds us that it is absolutely critical that no women should feel that she has ‘failed’ if she needs a Caesarean section for the safe delivery of her baby. A positive childbirth experience is most important. But women’s disappointment needs careful support and attention, and blaming a whole organisation does not contribute to that. 

Charities like the NCT are part of a global surge to reverse the trend of increasing UNNECESSARY intervention, and their work maximizes the opportunity for women to feel empowered, to be less afraid, and to understand and believe in their ability to give birth. So if women attend NCT antenatal ‘classes’ and become strong and inspired as their baby’s due date advances, they are fortunate and in a much better position to negotiate the corridor of countless doors that face them when labour starts. But, if each of those doors sadly close due to rigid hospital guidelines, ill-informed health care professionals, hospital cultures and systems, or as often happens a change of plan from a confused mother to be, then the NCT are not to blame. 

What do you think?


26 comments on “The National Childbirth Trust are not to blame….

  1. I couldn’t agree more. Anger should be directed towards needless medicalization of birth, rather than the work NCT do to promote normality. Should they discuss caesarean’s? Yes. But if a woman’s birth doesn’t go to plan, its too easy to say it was the antenatal class that let her down, rather than feel frustrated her birth choices were limited due to organizational policy.

    • Thanks Dawn, I agree. There are so many reasons women feel let down or disappointed…which have been documented many times as you will know. Just don’t like this kind of finger pointing and destructive journalism. 😦 Really appreciate you commenting 🙂

  2. Thank you Sheena! I know for a fact that my classes are designed to support and not leave women feeling as if they failed – if they do, then I have failed them.

    • It’s so sad Nicola that when women feel at their most disempowered, they have to blame someone or something. I suppose it’s nature. But the feeling of failure is a complex one, and it’s a pity this brilliant organisation is being labelled as being responsible. Great pity…..Thanks for taking time to comment 🙂

      • I find this lash out and feature in the Telegraph based on one person i.e. KA rather outdated and petty. We have a lot to thank the NCT for not least their amazing reputation for lobbying for choice, family centered care and excellent maternity services in the UK. You are right Sheena the blame culture is destructive and unhelpful….. thanks so much for talking about this and raising it an an issue

      • You are welcome Julie. We are lucky to have social media now, and a forum to respond like this. Thanks for your comment and for supporting the NCT. The organisation taught me so much in my career. 🙂

  3. I’m nearing the end of my breastfeeding counsellor diploma and I can’t wait to start working witb my nct antenatal teacher. I was lucky enough to observe her classes for an assignment and attend the subsequent reunion. We role played a c section and discussed the course of intervention fully so the parents were fully and FAIRLY informed about what lay ahead. Out of the 4 couples, one needed a cs and they said at the reunion that it was mainly due to the info at the class that they felt in control throughout because they knew what questions to ask. It really makes me sad that someone like Kirstie who has a high profile can cause bad feeling towards NCT. I’m proud to be a part of it and will do my absolute best to support and inform ALL parents I come across.

    • What an interesting comment Truds, thank you. It’s so important to support all women to enable a positive birth experience, and you now will have so much opportunity to do so. I agree, this kind of journalism is harmful, and doesn’t improve birth outcomes! Good luck and well done 🙂

  4. I think anyone who is in the public eye in the way that Kirstie Allsopp is can cause a heck of a lot of damage. I trust that this damage is being undone and that people will continue to view the NCT for what it is, an empowering and positive institution.

  5. Your article is spot on Sheena. Personally, I believe that empowering women to make their own decisions is so important, but they need the right help, support and advice in order to do so effectively. Kirsty’s viewpoint is unfortunate as it doesn’t appear to reflect the progressive and supportive ethos of the NCT today. Like Kirsty, I had two emergency c-sections, but unlike her, I found my local NCT practioner and mums were very supportive (we’d all had a range of different birth experiences). With the benefit of hindsight, although the support of the NCT was a plus, when it came down to the actual birth experiences I still felt unprepared for how anxious I felt each time on the day. I believe this “fear” contributed to the C-sections. I wish I’d known about hypnobirthing techniques back then as perhaps they’d have helped to allay my fears (yoga wasn’t enough!). As it’s 6 years hence I am curious to know if NCT practitioners now regularly teach these techniques?

    • Hi,
      I am an NCT antenatal facilitator and Natal Hypnotherapy practitioner, in answer to your question about relaxation techniques – I for one always teach relaxation, massage, birth positions and breathing. I also agree that self hypnosis for labour and birth is a powerful technique for a relaxed and calm birth experience.

    • Penny

      As an NCT antenatal teacher of 15 years I can tell you that we don’t regularly teach hypnosis for birth techniques mainly because it requires a whole new section of training. However, all fully qualified NCT antenatal teachers devise their own courses and to a greater or lesser degree are likely to include breathing awareness techniques, relaxation, working with the body, etc to help women cope in labour. I know I do this alongside lots of work around birth hormones and physiology to help reduce fear and it’s knock-on effects.

      Last year I also trained as a Natal Hypnotherapy(TM) practitioner because, as you suggest, I recognised the many benefits of hypnosis for birth. I believe the NCT may be developing an extra qualification for hypnosis for birth but it’s not quite there yet.

      Thanks to Sheena for a lovely positive response to the KA furore. It’s such a shame that one person’s poor experience can suddenly appear to negate decades of positive work. Of course, that’s not the case because those who have had beneficial, supportive, helpful experiences are still out there, but then that’s not “newsworthy” is it? 😉

      • Hi Penny, Thanks for the clarity. Sounds so exciting as I know the benefits of hyponotherapy well. Our positive comments aren’t newsworthy to the press, but we must keep using social media to get the messages out…share this post if you can, as an antidote! Thank you for taking time to comment 🙂

    • Hi Penny, thanks for commenting. I worked with so many women who felt trauma or disappointment after the birth of their baby. And in 99% of stories it was the feeling of lack of control that was the root of the feeling. Sometimes those women had had a ‘normal birth’. Preparation for birth is like training for a race…and women and birth partners will interpret and translate the information differently…and then have an individual experience ultimately. I am not sure if the NCT teach hyponobirthing(I think some do) but I know their sensitive facilitation of sessions could never be described as ‘dogmatic’ or ‘scary’. Best wishes to you and your little ones:)

  6. Thanks Zana, Clare and Sheena for your replies. It is good to know that effective breathing and relaxation techniques are now commonly taught in NCT classes. I can’t turn back the clock, but I believe the NCT are fortunate to have plenty of amazing and committed individuals on board who want to empower women – and if they are also fortunate enough to be assigned a midwife as committed as Sheena, their birth experience is likely to be a highly positive one! Although both my births were not ideal, I am not truamatised the way I know some c-section mothers are. I also take comfort in knowing that women giving birth at the same local hospital I did (Lewisham) can now choose to do so in a excellent new birthing room staffed by first rate midwives, so that is a huge improvement for expectant mums. Sadly, as some of you may be aware, this unit is under threat of closure alongside the A&E. I will share this post on twitter, as you suggested Sheena.

  7. That’s exactly it Shenna, “who to blame”? Kirsty Allsopp really doesn’t need to blame the NCT, she is forgetting the value this organisation provides to pregnant women.
    I do however, agree that women who have either ‘chosen’ or had an emergency c section’s experience not be bypassed or belittled. I have spoken to friends experiences of having C sections and their experience with the NCT. Not all positive. I do beleive that information seeking is a personal choice.. It is a shame that people feel the NCT does not support C sections and their emphasis is on normal and natural birth. There is a wealth of literature, courses, classes to empower you to have the personal experience of your choice. There isn’t much on supporting C sections. This I see as a multi-agency approach. Midwives, doulas, obstetrics, NHS, and any other support organisation for pregnant women to develop a universal support service, alongside VB support, for women’s c section choice and experience.
    It is totally unfair to ‘blame’ the NCT. You have a ‘choice’ in the support and information you seek. The NCT are in a fortunate position to ba able to support and promote better support and information, but lets not forget all the other available services that need to take the same approach.

  8. I read Kirsty’s post and commented too. I have experienced negative reactions to my decision to have a c-section and was even told by one midwife that my attitude was partly to blame for Luka’s birth ending in a second emergency section. BUT it’s ludicrous to blame the NCT. After he was born I forced myself to go along to an NCT parent’s group and I’m so glad I did. I made some very good friends, who convinced me to write my birth story for their local magazine. That led to my blog and then to freelance writing projects and ultimately to my recovery. I went into my 3rd pregnancy with my eye wide open and I stuck up for myself. I encountered no negativity towards my planned section at all. In my experience, the best thing organisations like the NCT can do is to give a balanced view and let women know about ALL of their options. I was able to find this out for myself but not all women are. For example, a friend of mine is 39 weeks pregnant with her 5th child. She is suffering from anti natal depression and is terrified of giving birth. Her baby has been breech so a section has been booked- until last week, when the baby turned and the section is now cancelled. She’s feeling terribly upset and let down and it isn’t because she wants an easy option with regards to birth. She hasn’t been aware of her options and hasn’t been listened to either. Its these situations that need changing and there is no way the NCT is to blame.
    Fantastic post and sorry for rambling!

    • Thanks Susanne, no ramble at all. I really appreciate your very honest comment and the time you took to give your viewpoint. I do hope your friend finds the right support very soon, I suggest she approaches a supervisor of midwives at the Trust she is booked with, and asks for a meeting. Best wishes to you and thank you again 🙂

  9. Pingback: Why women don’t often get the birth they want: my thoughts on the topic | SHEENA BYROM

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