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PRU-MHC: Policy Research Unit in Maternal Health & Care (2010 - 2018)

Having a baby in rural areas in England

The birth of a baby for individual women, their families and their communities is a significant and life-changing event. This work was part of a larger Commission for Rural Communities (CRC) project looking at major life events of different kinds taking place in rural areas of England, with a specific focus on needs and provision relating to pregnancy and childbirth. Key aspects of published guidelines relating to maternity care were described and a review undertaken of what is known of the organisation of care in rural areas and the experience of women living in those areas. Issues that may particularly impact on services for pregnant and new mothers and their families in rural areas were explored.

Providing maternity services in rural areas presents many challenges. Significant issues in delivering care to women and families in rural areas are location and accessibility, the range of services provided and staff able to provide the care, distance from parents' homes to services vary and travel time to the nearest obstetric unit. Travel difficulties are exacerbated by poor road quality, transportation services and weather. Poor accessibility impacts most on those with high risk pregnancies, young parents and low income families. Long distances from regional centres and other resources, the unpredictability nature of childbirth and possible distress associated with transfer to regional centres may result in further difficulties. The practical problems associated with midwifery staffing levels and distance to travel between homes and hospital are also important factors in planning and providing perinatal care. The report is available on the NPEU website.

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