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The History of Maternity – Louise Stewart, Head of West Midlands Maternity Network, NHS England

Today marks the 70th birthday of the NHS, it a day of celebration across the country and a time for hard working staff to take a moment to reflect on the achievements we have made in improving the health of the nation.

The first baby born into the NHS was a girl, named Aneira born at 1 minute past midnight the very dawn of the brand new National Health Service, in a small cottage hospital in west Wales called Glanamman.  If she’d been born 1 minute before, the family would have had to pay a midwife one and six to deliver the baby.

The National Health Service has changed women’s lives for the better, particularly women having babies. Before the creation of the National Health Service, babies were still commonly born at home or sometimes in nursing homes attended by midwives. In the 1950s, hospital births increased. Although women laboured without a birth partner, Dads were not present at the birth. By the end of the 50’s the ‘medicalisation’ of birth saw more women being managed by obstetricians. Indeed by the 70’s and 80’s women spent a week in Hospital and would regularly be attended by an Obstetrician.

Whilst many of these changes in the way the NHS has offered care made having a baby much safer, particularly saving the lives of mothers and babies in a medical emergency the downside saw less focus on women-centred care and choice.

In the last 25 years, the NHS has seen a renaissance in offering pregnant women a variety of options to manage labour and birth; including water birth, active birth, midwife-led birth, home birth, birth in a labour unit and caesarean delivery.