Exhaustion could lead to half of UK midwives and maternity staff making mistakes which could hurt patients, according to a survey by the Royal College of Midwives (RCM).
The findings, described by the RCM as "disturbing", show that 52% of midwives and maternity support workers had seen an error, near miss or other incident in the last month. They also strongly agreed, or agreed, with the statement: "I am worried about making a mistake at work because I am exhausted".
The survey was based on 1,361 responses to questions about the health, safety and wellbeing of midwives, maternity support workers and student midwives.
Staff shortages and increasing demands had led to fears about workloads while also raising the pressure to deliver safe care with dwindling resources. Many maternity workers expected to go without breaks, food and drink and to work very long hours, it found.
Stress was almost a daily feeling for 48% of maternity workers, with causes including the workload and staff shortages.
Of those questioned, 62%, said they felt dehydrated at work because they did not have time to drink, and just 21 per cent said they took their entitled breaks most or all of the time.
The findings were released as the RCM launches its Caring for You campaign to try to improve the health, safety and wellbeing of maternity workers.
Trusts are being asked to sign up to a charter to work with the RCM and its health and safety representatives as part of the campaign.
Suzanne Tyler, of the RCM, said: "This campaign is not just about caring for staff; it is also about enabling them to deliver the best possible care to women, babies and their families. Supportive and open workplaces benefit both staff and service users. "