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Last Updated: Saturday, 11 February 2006, 09:29 GMT
Top midwife's natural births call
Generic image of pregnant woman
A higher proportion women in Wales have Caesareans than in England
Wales' first professor of midwifery says the growing number of women having Caesarean births must be reduced.

Billie Hunter has been made Professor of Midwifery at Swansea University, the first such role in Wales.

She said she hopes to influence policy in Wales' maternity services, including reducing the Caesarean rate and combating a shortage of midwives.

Since 1996, the number of women having Caesarean births in Wales has risen from 19% to nearly 24%.

'Emotional problems'

The figure in Wales is higher than in England, where 22.7% of birth were Caesarean according to the most recent 2003-4 figures.

Professor Hunter told BBC Wales that while Caesareans were often necessary, women frequently chose to have them because they were "frightened".

Midwives don't go into it for the pay - it's about job satisfaction
Professor Billy Hunter

She added: "If it's an emergency Caesarean or there's a clinical need, then it's appropriate.

"But we find that women may have physical or emotional problems after having a Caesarean when it wasn't needed.

"My impression is that women are frightened about childbirth, they are frightened of pain and they consider a Caesarean as an option."

She said she thought there was more midwives could do to help ease women's fears over natural childbirth, adding: "The relationship between midwives and women is key."

'Influence policy'

Prof Hunter, 52, is Wales' first professor of midwifery and one of only about a dozen in the UK.

After working in midwifery for 25 years, Prof Hunter said her new role was to carry out research into maternity issues in Wales, but also to educate midwives and parents on choices.

Professor Billie Hunter
Billie Hunter is Wales' first professor of midwifery

She added that she hoped to influence policy on maternity issues.

Prof Hunter said: "My main role will be research - finding out more about maternity care in Wales, understanding the issues and then helping to improve it.

"There's still lots we don't know about having a baby and the experience of women who are having a baby."

As well as the increasing rate of Caesarean births in Wales, Prof Hunter said maternity services also faced problems of staff shortages.

'Burned out'

She said: "There's a big problem of recruitment and retention of midwives in Wales, as elsewhere.

"They get stressed and burned out after a couple of years. I need to find out why that is and help to stop it from happening.

"Midwives don't go into it for the pay - it's about job satisfaction."

Economic and social problems also affected maternity care in Wales, Prof Hunter added.

"The biggest overall problem in Wales is inequality in health," she said.

Home birth

"It all starts with birth and how a baby is nourished in the womb has a major impact on that baby's life chances.

"If a midwife can get there early and influence what people eat and how they look after themselves then it can help at a very early stage.

"There's scope for projects working with people in economically-deprived areas, ethnic groups or asylum seekers."

But Prof Hunter said she was "excited" to be taking up herrole, saying Wales was leading the way in some areas.

"There are more midwife-led birth units starting up and there is a policy to increase home birth to 10% of the total."

Caesarean rate 'still too high'
31 Mar 05 |  Health
Home births jump in Wales
23 Nov 04 |  Wales
Hospital backs midwife-led unit
01 Apr 04 |  South West Wales
Midwife shortage risk to babies
16 Feb 04 |  Health

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