Good maternal health throughout pregnancy and after birth can have a marked effect on the health and life chances of newborn babies, on the healthy development of children and on their resilience to problems encountered later in life. In 2008, the Department of Health launched the ‘Maternity Matters’ framework which describes a comprehensive programme for improving choice, access and continuity of care and sets out a strategy that will put women and their partners at the centre of their local maternity services provision.
There are four national choice guarantees that will be available for all women by the end of 2009 to enable women and their partners to have the opportunity to make well-informed decisions about their care throughout pregnancy, birth and postnatally:-
1. Choice of how to access maternity care
2. Choice of type of antenatal care
3. Choice of place of birth - depending on their circumstances, women and their partners will be able to choose between three different options. These are:
- A home birth
- Birth in a local facility, including a hospital, under the care of a midwife
- Birth in a hospital supported by a local maternity care team including midwives, anaesthetists and consultant obstetricians. For some women this will be the safest option.
4. Choice of postnatal care
The first choice guarantee places emphasis on the need for women to access maternity services for a full health and social care assessment of needs, risks and choices by 12 completed weeks of pregnancy to give them the full benefit of personalised maternity care and improve outcomes and experience for mother and baby. Completion of the assessment can help empower and support women in making well-informed decisions about their care throughout pregnancy, birth and postnatally.
In North East Essex, women are given the choice of accessing a midwife directly once they find out they are pregnant rather than initially going to their GP. The midwife will then carry out a full assessment and will work with the mother to plan the type of future maternity care that will most benefit both the mother and her baby according to their individual needs.
NHS North East Essex has produced a leaflet and a handy pocket-sized card informing women of the availability of this option and the need to access maternity services as soon as they find out that they are pregnant. The leaflet contains all the relevant contact information to ensure that women receive the advice, guidance and support they need in early pregnancy to enable them to make informed choices that are appropriate for their individual needs and circumstances. The leaflet also gives advice on maintaining a healthy lifestyle whilst pregnant and information on the development of the baby in the first weeks of pregnancy. This leaflet is being distributed to GP surgeries, pharmacies and all locations that may be accessed by women where this information would be beneficial.