I am thankful they were around when I needed a friend and a helping hand.


Diana Parkinson Awarded an MBE

We are delighted to announce that Diana Parkinson, the Chair of our Trustees, has been awarded an MBE in the New Year’s Honours List. This is a great recognition of the fantastic work she has done in over 20 years co-founding and chairing the charity. 

Diana says “Receiving an MBE for my work with Birth Companions is a real privilege. However, it is also a reflection of the dedication and hard work that a whole group of women have put into creating and developing an organisation that provides such immensely valuable support to pregnant women and new mothers facing severe and multiple disadvantage, both in prison and in the community. Having been part of the journey from the outset and having had the honour of serving as Chair of Trustees for almost twenty years, I would like to share the honour with all those who have been with me along the way as well as those who are currently part of Birth Companions. Unfortunately we still have a great deal of work to do as the health and social inequalities facing the women we support aren't likely to lesson anytime soon. But I know that the team that we have, and the ambition that we share, will enable us to continue to make a huge difference in the coming years.”

Birth Companions responds to safety concerns highlighted by new research

Newly published research by Dr Laura Abbott, specialist midwife and senior lecturer at the University of Hertfordshire, has highlighted significant risks to the safety and wellbeing of pregnant mothers and their babies in UK prisons; including women giving birth in cells without midwifery care.

During her research Dr Abbott encountered a number of stories of births happening in prison, including speaking to one woman named as ‘Layla’ who had a potentially life-threatening premature footling breech birth (feet first) in her cell. A member of the prison healthcare team had dismissed Layla’s concerns she might be in labour earlier in the evening, telling her she had weeks left until her due date. The baby was born a few hours later, amid what was described as ‘absolute panic’ among staff.

Responding to the research, Naomi Delap, Director of Birth Companions, says:

“Dr Abbott’s work shines a vital and long overdue spotlight on the risks mothers and babies currently face within the prison system. It appears, based on this research and our own conversations, that births may be happening in cells or during transfer to hospital in greater numbers than the prisons service or government are aware of, often as a result of slow staff responses, unqualified assessments or incorrect advice. Such situations are not only dangerous for mothers and babies, but are also highly stressful for prison staff.

“Any pregnancy and birth carries risks, and complications can happen for many reasons. We don’t want to blame prisons for incidents beyond their control, but there seems to be a good deal of evidence suggesting that prisons are failing to minimise and manage these risks, not only in terms of physical safety, but women’s mental health too.

“It’s vital that these issues, and others affecting pregnant women and new mothers in prison, are fully addressed in the new framework for women offenders due to be published by the Ministry of Justice before the end of the year. Without urgent changes, the lives of babies and mothers will continue to be put at risk in the prison system.”

Birth Companions is calling for a number of immediate steps to be taken to protect pregnant women and babies in prison, including:

          • Pregnant women should have 24-hour phone access to a hospital labour ward or specialist midwife.
          • Unqualified staff must not make decisions about whether a woman is in labour or in need of midwifery care.  Only Registered Medical Practitioners or Registered Midwives are permitted to make these decisions.
          • Appropriate plans should be made for pregnant women who are locked in at night, and they should be prioritised if calling for help.
          • Staff must be trained in emergency birth scenarios, with at least one trained staff member on the premises at all times. Such training must take account of the dignity and privacy of women, as well as the safety of mother and child.
          • Data must be collected and shared by NHS England, the Ministry of Justice and individual prisons on prisoner births, including the number and nature of births in cells or on transfer to hospital.
          • All stillbirths (babies born after 24 weeks of pregnancy with no signs of life) to women in prison should be reported as deaths in custody to the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman. 

And more broadly, in terms of policy change and service development:

  • Dedicated, specialist midwifery services for pregnant women and new mothers should be commissioned in all women’s prisons, along the lines of that developed in Low Newton prison in response to the suicide of a mother days after giving birth in 2015
  • Pregnant women should be offered the opportunity to live on a designated wing where they can benefit from peer support and staff can build up an expertise in their care
  • All pregnant women in prison should have access to the same standard of antenatal care as women in the community, have access to a birth supporter of their choice, and be provided with essential items for labour and the immediate postnatal period, as outlined in the Birth Companions Birth Charter

Read the article in today's Guardian 

For more information please contact Kirsty Kitchen at Birth Companions – kirsty@birthcompanions.org.uk / 07792779742

Birth Companions and The Royal College of Midwives respond to the Health & Social Care Select Committee report on Prison

Read our Statement HERE

New research: Making Better Births a reality for women with multiple disadvantages

Birth Companions and Revolving Doors Agency have published a joint research report contributing to a better understanding of the experiences and needs of women facing multiple disadvantage during pregnancy and birth.

Women facing multiple disadvantage often have poor and sometimes traumatic experiences of maternity services, and significantly poorer outcomes. And yet the concept of multiple disadvantage and its implications for women during pregnancy, birth and early motherhood have been under-explored, making relevant health and maternity service improvements – of the kind outlined in NHS England’s vision for Better Births published in 2016 - very difficult to achieve for this group of women.

Birth Companions and Revolving Doors Agency have published new research to help address this. Making Better Births a reality for women with multiple disadvantages was led by a team of peer researchers (women with lived experience of multiple disadvantage who have trained as researchers) and co-designed with local commissioners. The report shares the voices of 34 women in north-east London – voices of a kind rarely heard by mainstream services – mapped against the priorities set out in the National Maternity Review

Vicki Cardwell, Deputy Chief Executive of Revolving Doors Agency and co-author of the report, said:

“Women have shared their experience of pregnancy, birth and postnatal support against a background of domestic violence and abuse, mental ill health, substance use, homelessness, trauma, trafficking, criminal justice and the removal of children into the care system. Their contribution, supported by an amazing team of peer researchers who bring a unique perspective, will, we hope, go a long way towards transforming maternity services in Hackney, Barking and Dagenham and beyond.”

Naomi Delap, Director of Birth Companions, said:

“NHS England set out an ambitious vision for change in Better Births, but the complex and multiple needs of many women are underserved in its detail. This research highlights the practical and emotional barriers these women encounter in the maternity system, including the very real implications of a sense of fear, judgement and exclusion. The report’s findings, both positive and negative, serve as an important illustration of the need for a very different approach – a trauma-informed approach – to ensure women experiencing significant health and social inequalities are fully supported through a time of heightened vulnerability, but also of great opportunity and promise.”

Speaking in support of the research and its peer-led model, Kate Brintworth, Head of Maternity Commissioning for East London added:

“This approach offers an unparalleled opportunity to hear the lived truth for women experiencing difficulties, and I recommend this excellent report to all those involved with maternity services.”

For more information on the report please contact Kirsty Kitchen at Birth Companions – kirsty@birthcompanions.org.uk / 07792779742

Ministry of Justice to trial five residential centres for female offenders 
We cautiously welcome today's announcement from the Ministry of Justice that they are to trial residential units for women offenders as an alternative to custodial prison sentences of less than 12 months. We are particularly interested in comments from Justice Secretary David Gauke that mothers might be able to have their children with them.
For further comment please conatct our Director Naomi Delap

Publication of Public Health England’s new Gender Specific Standards to Improve Health and Well Being for Women in Prison.
We are particularly pleased to see that an entire section of these newly published standards relates to pregnancy and families. It is nearly two years on from the publication of our Birth Charter for Women in prison in England and Wales and we very much welcome seeing The Birth Charter cited as a reference throughout this section, as well as our work highlighted as an example of good practice.

At Birth Companions we know that the perinatal period and the first two years of a child’s life is a critical time in which to tackle harmful issues facing a woman during pregnancy and early parenting. Women in prison are particularly vulnerable during their pregnancies due to the effects of poor health, poverty, lack of support from family and friends and isolation. Working with mothers during this period presents a tremendous opportunity to break intergenerational cycles of disadvantage and to support them to give their babies the best start in life. 
We see the publications of the standards as a very positive first step towards improving the quality of services and outcomes for all women in prison and we are committed to working with our health and justice partners to assist in implementing these standards as quickly as possible across the women’s estate.

BJM Charity of the Year Award
Birth Companions won the British Journal of Midwifery’s Charity of the Year Awardat the beginning of February! This is not only a great honour but also a wonderful recognition of the hard work put in by all our staff and volunteers over the years. 
Now in their 10th year, The BMJ Awards are the UK’s leading medical awards. We promote excellence in healthcare and recognise the inspirational work of healthcare teams across the country.

My Brilliant Moment
Watch Viv Grey one of our Trustees talk about her 'Birlliant Moment' being part of the start of Birth Companions here