New mums call for improved care for them and newborns across Milton Keynes, Bedfordshire, and Luton

The shocking experience of mums-to-be and new mothers across Milton Keynes, Bedford, Central Beds and Luton has been revealed in a survey of 900 women.

Following a national focus on the issue, hospitals and community health leaders across the Bedfordshire, Luton, and Milton Keynes area (BLMK) have taken a look at maternity services and asked mums what they thought.

Maternity services

Maternity services

They found a need for perinatal mental health services, which had not previously existed in Bedfordshire or Luton, and in Milton Keynes there is a small unit that has been underfunded. Now £1.2million is being invested to improve the quality of care across the area.

Speaking at a meeting of the Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee, held at Milton Keynes Council on Tuesday (Feb 12), health officials said they would involve women in the development of the new perinatal mental health service.

Michelle Summers, communications lead at BLMK said: “Women’s views are at the centre of everything we do.” She spoke of a “grassroots” campaign to listen to mums at children’s centres throughout the area.

Milton Keynes councillor Alice Jenkins chairs the committee, and said she filled in a survey form after giving birth herself. She said the committee would keep the issue of the development of the perinatal mental health service on the agenda for future scrutiny of key developments.

For Luton and Bedfordshire it will be the first time a perinatal mental health service has existed. The service has been “soft launched” with a full official launch due later this year.

The feedback from women spoke of some traumatic experiences, including tragic baby deaths and the need for a bereavement service, and their views about the care they received. Some of the feedback was very positive but much was highly critical.

A Bedford mum wrote: “I suffered moderate antenatal anxiety throughout my pregnancy which was not picked up and this continued as postnatal anxiety for most of my now three year old’s life and affected my bonding with him.

“I have had to diagnose this myself and have had to seek treatment from my GP. I feel this should have been picked up during my pregnancy due to how was acting and the questions I was asking.”

Another said: “Please bring back one midwife for the entire pregnancy. first named terms, reassurance for the mums and reduce anxiety from the mish mash service of a service that’s underfunded and too red taped for patients and midwives too. Make the system better for all.”

A new mum from Milton Keynes said: “Although I did have a great experience during my pregnancy with NHS staff in hospital, I would have preferred to have one midwife throughout the experience. As it was my first child, I felt confused and unsettled speaking and dealing with so many midwives. The midwives who helped deliver my baby were fabulous! Friendly and helped me every step of the way.”

One mum told of her experiences in Luton and Bedford. “I transferred my care to Luton after a terrible birth in Bedford, it was very complicated to do and only achieved by knowing someone who helped. After care in both hospitals was dire. Community care was great!

“Breastfeeding – zero help! Which is just tragic, and I needed all the community help possible to achieve this. Why? It should be a priority. I had excellent care as both kids had tongue ties and snipping those in hospital was excellent!”

Some of the comments about Bedford were positive.

“I have had two births at Bedford Hospital, one live and one stillbirth. The care I received during both labours was great for each experience. Having made relationships with the staff there, the idea of having to go anywhere else to have my third child makes me very anxious.”

One Bedford mum said she felt her mental health concerns should have been picked up. “I suffered moderate antenatal anxiety throughout my pregnancy which was not picked up and this continued as postnatal anxiety for most of my now three year old’s life and affected my bonding with him.

“I have had to diagnose this myself and have had to seek treatment from my GP. I feel this should have been picked up during my pregnancy due to how was acting and the questions I was asking.”

Another Bedford mum spoke of warning signs being missed. “Problems were missed in both of us both which could have been fatal! Our notes were not checked, they should have been looked at!”

A common thread in the feedback was concern over a lack of continuity of care. “To be honest I felt like cattle being herded from one thing/ person to another.

“I had five different midwives during my pregnancy and never saw the same doctor. This was my first baby and was a very impersonal experience.

“I thought I’d be made to feel special and important and everything discussed with me how I wanted it but this wasn’t the case. Even after having my baby C Section I was left on my own the first night in hospital not a single person come to check on me the whole night.”

Another Bedford mum spoke of the potential life and death decisions being made for both the child and the mother.

“I haemorrhaged very severely. The midwife dealing with me brushed me off when I said there was something very wrong. I struggled to even hold my son for days. I would like midwives to be held accountable for their words and actions during a birth rather than it being brushed off because I lived.

“A midwife walking past my (open) door actually spotted me and saved my life.”

Baby deaths do tragically happen and another mum made a heartfelt appeal.

“There needs to be a bereavement midwife in Bedford Hospital, my daughter passed away in Nicu after six hours and feel more could have been offered to help me, not just box ticking to say things are done, also once discharged and after the 10day check I was left to own devices more could have been done and feel a bereavement midwife would be extremely helpful to grieving parents.”

Another mum said: “My baby died as a result of poor communication amongst staff on shift during labour. They didn’t hand over properly and then didn’t communicate with the on call registrar either. Also lack of training to read trace graphs was another factor.”

A Milton Keynes mum added: "We need to encourage the doctors and some midwives how to care for mothers experiencing loss of their child!

“I gave birth to my son at 22weeks 21hours and he died the morning he turned 23 weeks! At that point he was the legal age for medical professionals to fight for he’s life and even though we begged for that to happen the doctors didn’t even care to see or speak to me!

“The midwives were amazing but after I left I feel like they had forgotten about me after two weeks! I don’t feel cared for and I have no answers! I feel like the system failed me significantly and it needs to be improved!”

Personal birth choices are also being ignored, some say. One Bedford mum wrote: “Your midwives need some education in understanding that choices are ours not theirs.”

Understaffing on hospital wards and staff under pressure was also highlighted.

One mum wrote: “The hardest thing for me was being given my baby overnight after Caesarean and expected to care for him whilst I could barely keep my eyes open.

“I ended up in tears begging the nurses to take him so I could get a few hours sleep as I couldn’t get up to put him in his crib and was so worried about falling asleep and dropping him.”

A Milton Keynes nurse who became a mum wrote: “I fully understand the nurses were extremely busy, I could see how busy they were and I am a nurse myself in the same hospital. Therefore I know the stresses they are under. However being a patient who didn’t have my baby with me I found a serious lack of emotional support. I believe it’s because they were understaffed and clearly stressed. The nurses on the ward didn’t know how my baby was, and rarely asked.”

Some women appealed for their partners to be able to stay with them. One said: “The service I received was second to none from start to finish. However, I often think fathers are excluded from the process. His experience of delivery was worse than mine, in many ways. This should be considered and changes made to reflect the paternal journey too.”

Another wrote: “I think it is very important that birth partners are able to stay with their partner and child overnight post-birth. I had to have a Caesarean and was in hospital for four nights. Having my husband with me helped my recovery, confidence and our bonding as a new family. He was able to support me with simple things like lifting my daughter out of her crib to allow me to feed her and change her. The fact the partners can’t stay as standard because other patients don’t want them there can be incredibly distressing and anxious.”

The experience of giving birth can be a painful one, leading to longer term mental health problems. One woman wrote: “Since I ended up losing approx three litres of blood, needed surgery and had a blood transfusion with four bags of blood and one of plasma.

“During the seven days before my haemorrhage my body didn’t produce sufficient breastmilk and my baby starved and lost nearly 15 percent body weight. It was a traumatic experience and two years on I have had no mental support regarding this experience.”

One mum says she won’t go back to the same hospital. She said: “Even the thought of going for a scan or appointment leaves me trembling and anxious, I am currently 14 weeks pregnant with my third baby and I am so traumatised by my experiences that I have not even seen a midwife and feel I will have no choice but to have an unassisted home birth. I sincerely hope the service to these women improve and no other woman or her child are put through an ordeal like this!”