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How can we democratise maternity care?

Chris Brown - Loytech

Any parents of young children in the UK will be very familiar with the statutory maternity leave and help offered. Most will also be aware that it leaves a lot to be desired. In a 2019 UNICEF report of the wealthiest countries, the UK ranked among the lowest for family-friendly workplace policies, including parental leave and childcare services for children aged 0-6 years old.  

The situation has not improved much in the years since; so why is the UK, which is considered among the 31 wealthiest countries in the world according to the same list, performing so poorly?  

One reason for this, according to Pachamama founder and maternity care expert Arianna Radji Lee, is where the focus lies. “A lot of emphasis is placed on antenatal care, particularly in the UK – and that’s terrific. You have access to a wide variety of health care professionals to support you throughout your pregnancy. However, once your baby is born, a lot of that attention shifts onto the baby, and the mother can often be left feeling ignored, isolated and alone.” 

As well as low statutory parental leave, there is also an increasing epidemic of poor perinatal mental health. It is estimated that up to 1 in 5 women develop some form of mental health problem during their pregnancy or in the first year after birth. Despite such high numbers of cases, little is offered to new parents to help them cope with the new addition.  

“Postnatal care varies massively across the NHS, as the level of care is dependent on your local NHS trust, which means that certain areas of London will have access to better care than others. 

The Difficulties Facing the NHS
There are a variety of problems burdening the NHSWithin cities, many people rely on their services meaning they are often spread thin; while in more rural areas, it is the lack of access to trained professionals and the vast geographical areas they then have to traverse that seem to cause issues.   

In Arianna’s eyes, it has become clear that the NHS is understaffed and underfunded“With doctors being under overwhelming pressure and having to fill gaps in specialist services, the mother’s health and wellbeing often gets overlooked. In fact, a third of the women questioned in a NCT survey had an estimated 3 minutes or less for their maternal check.” 

Not only are the services sparse and often inaccessible, but they are also rushed and focused on the wrong areas. “Postnatal care is important because it looks after a woman’s physical, mental, emotional and hormonal health after having a baby. Unfortunately, though, it’s a vital part of a woman’s health that’s so often overlooked.” 

With maternity care being such a fundamentally important core of the NHS for mothers and children alike, one question Arianna found herself asking was: how do we fix this? This is what led her to found Pachamama. 

Flexible Working
Some of the challenges organisations such as Pachamama face, include the stigma around maternity support in the office: “I think there needs to be more open and frank discussions about expectations, flexible working and what’s actually available within workplace structures for women returning to work. I think ‘keep in touch’ days are great and necessary, but more needs to be done to support women transitioning back into the workplace – particularly as the majority of women are the primary caregivers.” 

Not all the difficulties lie at the feet of the employers either. Arianna has found that many women also find it difficult to reach out to her service for help: “A lot of women can feel as though asking for help and support means they are admitting to struggling in their role as a mother. But I believe the contrary. I think that seeking help is a sign of strength, which is why at Pachamama we try to offer a really holistic approach to postnatal support.” 

With all this in mind the answer to the question of ‘how do we democratise maternity care’ is quite straightforward: increasing access for all to beneficial care. While the primary destination for this should always be the NHS, we have all bore witness to a stretching of services in recent years. Other avenues for support and advice, such as experienced friends and family, are not always available for single and new parents going it alone.  

This is the inspiration that Arianna drew from when creating Pachamama, and the long terms goals are evident: “I believe that if we’re able to support mothers and their babies with adequate levels of care and support postnatally, that maternal mental health numbers would come down, and postnatal recovery would be a lot quicker.” 

Employee Benefits
While maternity cover is provided as statutory by the government for all workers, many businesses are looking at ways they can offer more. Employees are also looking to their employers to provide a wider variety of support in addition to the usual employee reward platforms.  

This need for diverse and useful benefits is what inspired Mór to create their corporate rewards platform. Urchana Moudgil, Co-CEO of Mór, explained: “After the pandemic and the effects, people are expecting more from their employers than just the usual perks and discounts. They want to know that their employers share the same values as them and can provide resources that are actually beneficial to them.” 

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