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Wednesday, 3 July, 2002, 03:59 GMT 04:59 UK
Natural births 'rarer than ever'
baby on back
Fewer births are completely natural
Fewer women than ever before are having completely natural births - and where you live makes a big difference to your chances of doing so.

Figures presented to MPs suggest that the proportion of births which involved no active intervention by doctors fell by almost 15% over the past decade.

Not only is Caesarean section far more common, but doctors are also far more keen to use either forceps or suction devices to aid delivery, or to give epidural pain relief.

The statistics were compiled from Department of Health statistics, and show extreme variation between rates of natural birth at different maternity units.

For example, a woman in West London could go to Queen Charlotte's Hospital - where only a quarter of births are natural.

However, if she attended nearby Kingston Hospital or West Middlesex Hospital, natural birth is far more likely there.

Relaxed setting

Mary Newburn, head of policy at the National Childbirth Trust, said that the figures represented a worrying trend.

"We want all women to have access to services where normal births are the norm and not the exception, and that means making a united effort to create a shift in culture.

"Normal births need to be seen as important, with birth rooms designed to be comfortable, relaxing and private, and all midwives encouraged to develop the skills and have time to support women throughout their labours.

"At present, the focus is often on monitoring and record keeping, not the woman's needs."

The unit with the highest normal birth rate is the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital, with the Shropshire midwife-led unit, which managed 68% of births completely naturally.

High home birth rates were achieved in Brighton and South Devon, where approximately one in 12 and one in 10 women respectively was able to give birth outside hospital.

Julia Drown MP, the chairman of the Parliamentary Group, said: "Joyous births enhance a woman's self-confidence and well-being to help her care for herself and her child in the coming months and years.

"Our group is trying to produce more of these good births, particularly by reducing unnecessary interventions."

The rate of Caesareans and other interventions has increased partly in response to a rise in litigation as a response of medical mistakes during labour.

However, a caesarean section is major abdominal surgery and evidence presented at a fertility conference this week suggested that women may find it harder to conceive again after having the operation.

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