Nine in 10 new dads 'present at birth'

image captionBeing there at the birth can mean fathers stay more involved

Nine out of 10 fathers-to-be are present when the child is born - and nearly as many also come to scan appointments, says a survey.

The study of 5,300 recent mothers by Oxford University found most happy with their care during pregnancy and the birth.

However, only two-thirds had been offered antenatal classes.

The National Childbirth Trust said the survey findings were further evidence of a shortage of midwives in England.

The study, funded by the Department of Health, questioned women who gave birth in a two-week period in late 2009.

Although similar surveys were carried out in 1995 and 2006, it is the first time that questions have been asked about the role of the father during pregnancy and birth.

As well confirming that the vast majority of men choose to attend the birth, the study found that two in five male partners directly sought out information about pregnancy and birth, and 61% accompanied their partner at antenatal checks.

Paternity leave

In total, 89% of women reported that their partner came to the birth, and 88% said they came to one or more ultrasound scans.

Most were involved in looking after the newborn, with 65% changing nappies or bathing, and four out of five playing with the baby.

More than 70% were able to take paternity leave, usually about four weeks.

Dr Maggie Redshaw, who led the research, said: "Dads are often delighted, even bowled over to see their babies for the first time on ultrasound scans - the positive effect of this shouldn't be underestimated."

She said the survey also suggested women were more likely to visit a doctor or midwife earlier in pregnancy, with 95% seeing someone by the 12-week mark, compared to 82% in 1995.

However, many women had not been offered antenatal classes, most of them first-time mothers.

Dr Redshaw said: "Not every woman will want antenatal education or classes during pregnancy, but it's important that women at least have the option."

In addition, the ideal of a single midwife looking after a woman throughout pregnancy is not a reality for most, the report found.

Only 18% experienced this, while a quarter of women were looked after by four or more midwives at various points.

While most felt they trusted the midwives looking after them during labour, a quarter said they had been worried by being left alone at some point during the process.

The government has already been accused of going back on a pledge to increase the number of midwives, and the National Childbirth Trust said that the survey findings could only increase the pressure on this front.

Belinda Phipps, its chief executive, said that despite showing improvements in some areas, the survey painted a "glum picture" of maternity services.

She said: "All these problems point back to a lack of midwives and investment in maternity services and we call on the Government to address these issues as soon as possible.

"Lack of antenatal care is also a worry - cash strapped trusts looking to reduce their costs will cut down or halt provision of antenatal classes.

"Couple this with the shortage of midwives and the outlook is not rosy.

"How many more surveys showing unhappy parents are needed before the message is heard, and real steps are taken to address their needs?"

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