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The latest national maternity survey ‘You & Your Baby’ is published today. The large population-based survey, conducted by the National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit, explores the health and well being of women who have recently given birth in England. 

A random sample of 16,000 women aged 16 and over who gave birth in October 2017 was selected by the Office for National Statistics from birth registration records. Just over 4,500 women replied to the survey. Response rates were lower in younger women, those who were unmarried when their birth was registered, women born outside the UK, women in socially disadvantaged areas, and women who had previously given birth. Survey weights were used to help reduce the effects of bias introduced by non-response. 

This is the first national maternity survey in England to ask women about their health and well being six months after childbirth. Studies often focus on pregnancy and the early postnatal period, so important milestones and challenges later in the postnatal period, such as infant feeding, mental health, and returning to work receive less attention. For the first time, women were asked about vaping around the time of pregnancy and childbirth. 

Key findings: 

  • 74% of women said their pregnancies were planned.
  • 88% of births were in hospital, 9% in a birth centre and 3% at home.
  • 61% of births were spontaneous vaginal births, 12% involved instrumental assistance and 27% were caesarean sections.
  • 8% of babies were born preterm (before 37 weeks’ gestation).
  • 7% of babies were low birth weight (less than 2,500 grams).
  • 85% of women had initiated breast feeding and 45% breastfed for six months or longer.
  • 54% of women had given solid food to their baby before they were six months old.
  • 13% of women reported suffering from anxiety and 7% from depression during pregnancy.
  • 29% reported suffering from anxiety and 16% from depression during the postnatal period.
  • 21% of women were not asked about their mental health during the postnatal period or did not remember whether they had been asked.
  • 10% of women smoked tobacco at some point during pregnancy and 4% used vaping devices.
  • 54% of women were on paid maternity leave and 6% were on unpaid maternity leave six months after giving birth.

Looking at trends over time, these results suggest that there have been some positive changes in recent years in terms of infant feeding practices, smoking behaviours around the time of pregnancy, and return to work patterns following childbirth. These developments continue longer-term trends which reflect changes in legislation and policy. One significant challenge highlighted by the survey is the ongoing need to address maternal mental health problems and to offer women the support they need.