Natural Birth - Use pools to combat birth pain
Doctors and nurses were yesterday offered advice on how to ease the pain of women in labour - ranging from smiles to birthing pools.
New Government guidelines say that clinical intervention, such as drugs to induce labour, should not be offered where delivery is progressing normally.
This might mean longer labours but should reduce complications, said the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence.
Dr Julia Sanders, a consultant midwife, and a member of the group which drew up the guidance said: "There is a perception that water is just nice. But it is the most effective form of pain relief barring an epidural in labour.
"I would like to see more women using water and fewer women using the types of pain relief that are less effective."
She added that the guidelines highlight very strongly that communication with women in labour is "absolutely crucial".
Doctors and nurses should try to smile as much as possible for reassurance.
But last night, critics said Nice's pledge to give all pregnant women the choice of giving birth at home is doomed to fail because of a shortage of midwives.
It is estimated nearly 5,000 more will be needed by 2012 - double the number previously thought - because of the rising birthrate. Under the new guidelines, women will have the right to supportive onetoone care in labour.
The institute stresses that women should be given information and support to make an informed decision about "where to give birth that is right for her and her baby".
The guidance reinforces the promise made in April by the Department of Health that by the end of 2009 all women will be given a choice about where they give birth.
They will also be guaranteed a named midwife to care for them throughout their pregnancy.
Currently, around 600,000 women give birth in England and Wales every year.
Maureen Treadwell, of the Birth Trauma Association, said better levels of information and communication with women in labour would leave them less vulnerable to feeling victims of events.
She added: "We need good communication to ensure that women are treated with dignity, courtesy and respect. We are not dictating what women should have.
"This is about women making choices that are right for them."
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists gave a guarded welcome to the new guidance.
"For some women, hospitals remain the safest place to deliver," it said.
"Women should discuss the range of options that are available, including the risks involved, with their GPs, midwives and obstetricians."
However, figures from the Royal College of Midwives also show the Government cannot meet one-to-one care without a massive rise in midwife numbers.
It says a 12.5 per cent rise in the birthrate - up from 565,000 in 2001 to 636,000 last year - threatens to derail the plan.
Midwife numbers have risen just 4.5 per cent from 18,000 in 1997 to 18,862 last year, with 2006 seeing a drop on the previous year.
Fewer midwives are being trained and nearly half are set to retire in the next decade, says the RCM. Cash-strapped hospitals are failing to fill posts and some maternity units are under threat of closure.
Although in April the RCM estimated 3,000 extra midwives would be needed in five years' time, it says the Government's official birthrate forecast has proved to be significantly below the actual rate.
The recalculated figure is now 5,000.
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