FANS of the hit television programme Call the Midwife will be familiar with 1950s nuns and nurses jumping on their bicycles to deliver babies in the East End of London.
Now most mums-to-be opt to have their baby in hospital surrounded by teams of obstetricians and midwives — but community midwives still play a vital role in helping pregnant women cope with pregnancy and the early stages of motherhood.
So 60 years on from the post-war era of Call the Midwife, what has changed for community maternity services in Bolton?
Chris Wright has been a qualified midwife since 1983 and has worked in the community for about 10 years.
She is now the midwifery team leader for the north of Bolton and helps run children’s centres, such as Oldhams Children Centre and Tonge Children’s Centre.
Ms Wright says community midwives are crucial to helping mums-to-be make informed choices about their birth and improving the health of newborn babies.
They also can help pregnant women to quit smoking and encourage breastfeeding.
Ms Wright, a mum-of-two, said: “When a woman comes to us she will have had her first scan in hospital and then will see the same community midwife throughout her pregnancy.
“The main strength of having a community midwife is that it gives women a sense of continuity and builds trust. It also ensures they don’t receive any conflicting advice.
“We don’t want women to feel nervous about the birth. Quite often when you go on home visits and mums or grandparents will tell you their own stories of childbirth and quite often they’re quite negative.
“What you see in Call the Midwife is quite different from what it was like back then because midwives were actually very tough.
“We want to eradicate any negative experiences and empower women through their pregnancy journey.
“But the power is in their hands and we want them to tell us what they want.
“These days, the relationship between a community midwife and a pregnant woman is very much like a friendship.” The community midwife will see a woman regularly from the 11 to 12 week stage of pregnancy for physical check ups and emotional support.
Another role of community midwives is to promote home birth.
The number of women opting for a home birth in Bolton is still relatively small with about two to four being delivered at home every week in the borough.
But Ms Wright says there has been a renewed interest in the past two years. She explained: “If a woman is considered ‘low risk’, we will encourage them to consider having a home birth.
“If you go into hospital you are at greater risk of hospital acquired infections and sometimes the fear of being in hospital produces adrenaline, which can actually inhibit labour.
“Generally, women who have a home birth find that it is much more relaxed. It’s a nice atmosphere and they are not as exposed to germs.
“Most women will have their first baby in hospital and — if they had a good experience — will then research and consider a home birth. I’ve seen some really wonderful moments when a baby’s born at home and their sibling is in the house too.
“Of course, the choice is always down to the mum-to-be. We just like to educate them about the options available to them. I really believe that pregnancy should be an empowering experience for women.”
Jane Hovington, aged 39, gave birth to baby Florence with the help of community midwives three weeks ago in her Egerton home.
The mum-of-two said: “When I gave birth to my first daughter, Sophia, I was living in London and having a home birth wasn’t an option. It was only when the community midwife mentioned it to me that I started to consider the idea and researched it properly.
“I gave birth to Florence in a birth pool in my lounge with my husband and it was amazing. It was great not to have the worry of having to get to the hospital on time.
“It was just much more relaxed. If you have a low risk pregnancy I would definitely recommend it.”
Sophie Clayton, is a second year midwifery student on placement with the community team in the Oldhams Children’s Centre and helped deliver baby Florence.
The mum-of-two said: “It is very intense training to become a midwife.
“It was very difficult to get into and you are put on placement almost straight away.
“But it’s such an amazing thing to be part of and support a women in that way. I still cry at every single birth.
“Even though it is the most natural thing for the human body to do, I still find it a miracle.”