With research suggesting more women should be encouraged to give birth in midwife-led units, the matron of the DGH’s maternity unit explains why she wants more mums to give birth in Eastbourne.
Matron Jane McFaite said although the unit has delivered more than 550 babies since it became midwife-led in May 2013, it could certainly deliver more.
We can deliver so many more babies here. We offer a really, really great service
For low-risk mums, she said giving birth at a midwife-led unit is the best place for them, and this is backed up by research from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).
The research said 45 per cent of women giving birth in NHS settings are at low risk of complications, and should be looked after by a midwife-led unit.
But last year, NICE figures show nine out of 10 babies in England and Wales were delivered in hospital under the ultimate supervision of obstetricians.
According to NICE, the evidence now shows midwife-led units to be safer for women having a straightforward low risk pregnancies.
“NICE have come out with research saying if you’re low risk the best place for you is to be looked after by midwives by a midwife-led unit,” said Jane.
“The Conquest sees a lot of low-risk women from Eastbourne. We are still getting a lot of people that do not know about us.
“This is a service which is in Eastbourne and it is a great service.”
She said it is only high-risk mothers who must attend the consultant-led maternity unit at the Conquest in Hastings, and many mums giving birth there could have done so in Eastbourne.
One Hampden Park mum, Zoe Redford, gave birth to her son Remy on Sunday at the Eastbourne maternity unit, and she said she was worried she would have to go to the Conquest, as she and her partner Damian do not drive.
“I had all three of my babies here,” said the 32-year-old mum. “It was amazing, I cannot fault them.”
She said she was much happier having Remy at Eastbourne, and being familiar with the DGH and its maternity ward made it a natural choice for her.
“When you have lived somewhere all your life, you feel comfortable in your own environment,” she said.
Jane said she is keen for more expectant Eastbourne mums to visit the maternity ward at the DGH, to see if it is right for them.
The unit is calm, quiet and offers a ‘home-from-home experience’, said Jane.
There are four delivery rooms, a birthing pool, facilities to play music and electric candles to set the right mood.
Parents have a choice in how they want to give birth and can make requests to accommodate their wishes, whether it is a holistic approach, a water birth, or anything else they might want.
A myth Jane said she wished to dispel was that pain relief is not offered at the Eastbourne maternity unit.
“People think they can’t have pain relief here,” she said. “We do everything other than epidurals. That is the only thing we do not offer.”
With 15 midwives, eight maternity support workers, in addition to community midwives, there is a great deal of experience and support at the unit.
“It is experienced midwives and experienced community midwives,” said Jane.
On the latest research, Professor Mark Baker, NICE’s clinical practice director, said, “Most women are healthy and have straightforward pregnancies and births.
“Over the years, evidence has emerged which shows that, for this group of women, giving birth in a midwife-led unit instead of a traditional labour ward is a safe option.
“Research also shows that a home birth is generally safer than hospital for pregnant women at low risk of complications who have given birth before.
“Where and how a woman gives birth to her baby can be hugely important to her.
“Although women with complicated pregnancies will still need a doctor, there is no reason why women at low risk of complications during labour should not have their baby in an environment in which they feel most comfortable.
“Our updated guideline will encourage greater choice in these decisions and ensure the best outcomes for both mother and baby.”
Susan Bewley, Professor of Complex Obstetrics at King’s College London, said, “Midwives are highly capable professionals and can provide amazing one-to-one care to pregnant women in labour, whether that’s in a woman’s own home, a midwife-led unit or a traditional labour ward.
“Some women may prefer to have their baby at home or in a midwife-led unit because they are generally safer - that is their right and they should be supported in that choice.
“But, if a woman would prefer to have her baby in a hospital because it makes her feel ‘safer’, that is also her right. Giving birth is a highly personal experience and there is no ‘one size fits all’ model that suits all women.
“What’s important is that women and their families are given the most up-to-date information based on the best available evidence so that they can make an informed decision about where the mother gives birth to her child.”
This is something Eastbourne’s midwifery matron Jane agreed with and said, “We want people to deliver in the best place for them.”
And in some cases that will be at the Conquest.
Factors which can increase the risk of complications during birth include, women being over the age of 35, women who are overweight or obese, recreational drug use, bleeding after 24 weeks of gestation, high blood pressure, fetal abnormality, the baby lying in a breech position, or a serious medical condition such as diabetes or epilepsy.
These high-risk women will always be sent to the Conquest to the consultant-led unit, and in some cases, mums who expect to give birth in Eastbourne have been transferred to Hastings if there are complications in labour.
In most cases, any complications or high risk indicators are picked up long before labour, and Jane said the midwives at the DGH are experienced and trained to recognise any abnormality or complications in the labour process.
“By 36 weeks you would pick up the things that make normal people high risk,” said Jane.
But although Jane said it is ‘rare’, expectant mums are occasionally transferred to the Conquest to give birth at the consultant-led unit.
She said even if Eastbourne mums give birth at the Conquest, if they are medically fit, they can come back to the Eastbourne Midwifery Unit to recover from a caesarean section or a forceps birth.
The unit offers post-natal support for families, whether they gave birth at the DGH, the Conquest, or at home.
This includes support in breast-feeding, parenting, and anything else they are worried about,
“We can actually offer an awful lot of support here,” said Jane.
“They can come over and get support for what is important to them.”
When the consultant-led maternity services were moved to the Conquest in May 2013, there was widespread concern about mums having to travel between the two hospitals.
The Save The DGH campaign protested, and tried to get the consultant-led service moved back to Eastbourne, which dominated the headlines at the time.
Since then many Eastbourne mums have given birth at the Conquest in Hastings, whether it is because they are high risk, they preferred to give birth in a consultant-led unit, or they were not aware there were still services in Eastbourne.
But Jane is keen to make more pregnant women aware that the Eastbourne Maternity Unit is still up and running, and is a safe service for low-risk women.
The maternity unit at the DGH allows expectant parents to come and have a tour of the unit, giving them a chance to ask any questions, and to see if it is the right choice for them.
Jane urged expectant mums to visit the maternity unit and consider giving birth there if they are low risk.
“Speak to your midwife if you have a low risk pregnancy, or give us a call on 01323 414911,” said Jane. “We can deliver so many more babies here,” said Jane. “We offer a really, really great service.”
For more information on the maternity units at the Eastbourne DGH and the Conquest hospital, visit www.esh.nhs.uk/maternity
For more on the NICE research visit www.nice.org.uk