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20 June 2024

BESt-UK launched to understand obstetric violence and birth trauma in the UK

Research will address lack of understanding in this area and its impact on different people including minoritised groups.

Mother cradling a newborn in a birthing pool.
Mother holding newborn in a birthing pool.

A new study aims to shed light on the prevalence of obstetric violence and birth trauma for women and birthing people giving birth in the UK.

Previous research has suggested 30% of birthing women or people may experience birth trauma, however, newer data is needed in the post-Covid era and less is known about obstetric violence.

The Birth Experience Study (BESt) UK, launched by King’s College London and the charity Make Birth Better, aims to address the lack of understanding in this area, and its impact on different people, particularly those from diverse and minoritised communities (such as women with disabilities or from Black or Asian backgrounds). For the first time in the UK, the study will reveal how much more people are likely to be affected by birth trauma if they are from a minoritised group.

Separate to the UK Public Inquiry into Birth Trauma led by MPs in the All Party Parliamentary Group for Birth Trauma, this study will provide academically grounded research that covers all birthing experiences (positive, negative or neutral), giving additional insights and perspectives. It will also capture the birth experiences of those who have not used the NHS, enabling a comparison of birth experiences within different models of care.

Funded by King’s College London, the mixed-methods study focuses on the maternity experiences of those who have given birth in the UK within the last five years. It is part of an international collaboration, which started in Australia in 2020 as a survey co-produced with consumer groups. The results of this study triggered the first ever New South Wales Parliamentary Inquiry into birth trauma, which has in turn triggered a Parliamentary Inquiry in the UK into maternity care and conditions (published in May 2024).

BESt UK has tailored the initial Australian survey with extensive input from charities, non-profit organisations, community groups (such as Doula UK and AIMS - Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services) and service users to suit the UK population. It has also translated the survey into five different languages (Polish, Romanian, Portuguese, Punjabi and Urdu) to ensure people from those communities can participate.

The findings from the study will contribute to national and international agendas to improve women’s experiences of maternity services. It will also help raise awareness of those who are currently marginalised by the NHS maternity system.

In spite of increasing pressures and known structural challenges that prevent maternity professionals from providing adequate care, the major parties have not addressed worsening maternity services. Improving birthing experiences needs to be a priority for the incoming government and we hope this study will stimulate urgent national debate, collaboration and momentum to improve maternity care.

Dr Claire Feeley, Midwifery and Maternal Health Lecturer/Researcher, Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing, Midwifery and Palliative Care

This robust research will allow us to accurately demonstrate the prevalence of birth trauma and obstetric violence in the UK. Even more so, it will provide new, vital information on how these rates change when someone is from a marginalised group. For example, we know that if you're Black, brown or from a racially minoritised group, the chances of you being affected by birth trauma increase. But we don't have any solid stats on this. This research will change that and strengthen our arguments for change.

Nikki Wilson, CEO of Make Birth Better

People can get involved with the study by completing this form.

More information about the study is available on the King’s College London website.