There has been a drop in the standard of care offered to new mothers on NHS wards, a survey suggests.
The national maternity survey for England – which asked more than 17,600 women about their experiences of pregnancy and birth – found a decline in the proportion of women who felt supported after labour and who got help with things such as breastfeeding.
The poll, from the Care Quality Commission (CQC), showed a mixed picture overall, with many women saying positive things about their care during pregnancy and the actual birth.
But postnatal care is a continuing area of concern, with some women left feeling isolated and unsure how to care for their baby.
Following birth and during their time on the ward, 59% of women in 2018 said they could get a member of staff to help them in a reasonable timeframe if they needed it.
But 31% said this only happened sometimes and 10% said they could not access help.
Meanwhile, 65% of women said they were always given the information or explanations they needed while in hospital after birth, down from 66% in 2017.
The proportion who answered “yes sometimes” to this question has also been falling since 2013, and stood at 26% in 2018.
Some 9% said they were not given the information or explanations they needed while in hospital after birth.
The poll also found a slight drop in the percentage of women who said they always received consistent advice about feeding their baby from midwives and other health professionals (56%, down from 57% in 2017).
Fewer women said midwives and other health professionals always gave them active support and encouragement about feeding their baby, (63%, down from 64% in 2017). More than one in 10 women (11%) said they did not receive active support.
Once home, 73% of women said that they saw a midwife as much as they wanted, a decrease from 75% in 2015 and 2017, the poll found.
Meanwhile, 23% said they wanted to see a midwife more often (up from 21% in 2017).
The survey also found a decrease in the proportion of women who said they were “definitely” given enough information about their own physical recovery after the birth – from 57% in 2017 to 53% in 2018.
And in the six weeks after birth, while 62% of new mothers “definitely” received help and advice from a midwife or health visitor about feeding their baby, almost four in 10 women only received this to some extent or not at all.
A quarter of women (25%) said that if, during evenings, nights or weekends, they needed support or advice about feeding their baby, they were not able to get this, up from 22% in 2017.
And regarding emotional changes after birth, 56% felt they were definitely given enough information, down from 59% in 2017.
Women were also asked about the types of pain relief they had during labour.
It showed that one in three women now use natural methods during labour, including hypnobirthing and massage (34%, up from 32% in 2017).
This was sometimes combined with other forms of pain relief, with 77% of all women having gas and air.
The proportion of women having an epidural has also risen, from 28% in 2017 to 30% in 2018.
Meanwhile, there has been a drop in the number using a pain-releiving TENS machine (14% in 2017 to 13% in 2018).
Women were on the whole positive about many aspects of antenatal care offered by midwives and said they were treated throughout with dignity and respect.
There has also been a rise in the percentage of women who said a partner or other person close to them could stay with them as much as they wanted during their time in hospital.
The poll was among women who gave birth in February 2018.