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27 February 2024

BMJ letter renews call for safety warnings on Call the Midwife

A joint letter written by a King’s academic and other researchers has renewed a call for the popular BBC programme Call the Midwife to add safety warnings on its episodes which depict inaccurate birthing practices, particularly those which show early umbilical cord clamping that can harm babies, especially if they are premature.

Nurse holding newborn baby

Professor Susan Bewley, Professor Emeritus of Obstetrics and Women's Health at King’s, said: “What the public does not know is that many healthcare professionals will think inaccurate birthing practices depicted on popular shows like Call the Midwife are current and correct when that is not the case. By clamping the cord early, professionals are preventing the baby from receiving valuable nutrients that are essential for its early health and survival.

“Clamping the cord early is the equivalent of suddenly removing two to three pints of an adult’s blood volume or 20-30% of a baby’s blood supply, and yet this is being dramatised on the programme Call the Midwife as historic safe practice. But mothers need to be aware that early cord clamping isn’t and shouldn’t be experienced as normal.”

Professor Susan Bewley, Professor Emeritus of Obstetrics and Women's Health at King’s

This call follows from previously published research, where academics from King’s and the University of Liverpool analysed more than 80 episodes of televised births from three UK popular fictional and reality TV programmes (BBC’s Call The Midwife, This Is Going To Hurt and Channel 4’s One Born Every Minute), to see how they compare to modern guidelines by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).

In the letter published in the BMJ and highlighted as letter of the week, Professor Bewley and fellow authors found additional inaccuracies in recent episodes of Call the Midwife, prompting a renewed call for safety warnings in the programme.

“Whilst the series promotes many public health policies which were introduced at the time, I would encourage the authors to create story lines which would naturally allow to wait for at least one minute before clamping and cutting the umbilical cord. This would provide the newborn babies with much needed iron rich own cord blood.”

Professor Heike Rabe, Professor of Perinatal Medicine and Honorary Consultant Neonatologist at Brighton and Sussex Medical School

The letter addressed the concern of normalising the practise of delaying umbilical cord clamping and stated: 

It’s hard to imagine a reasonable justification for cutting off a baby’s continuing blood supply—yet this is normalised on television. The BBC did not answer freedom of information questions on the grounds that if the information requested was held it would be for the purposes of “art, journalism, or literature” and said that it was not obliged to disclose this type of information. The BBC has also defended the drama as “highly accurate” in the press.

Amanda Burleigh, midwife and founder of #Waitforwhite, said: 

“There’s no doubt that Call the midwife is an exceptionally popular television series watched by audiences which include parents, parents to be, midwives and midwives to be. The power of this program is in its ability to educate and enlighten, but instead portrays a harmful practice which is out of character with the time period and has the potential to misinform and manipulate audiences into thinking early clamping is safe, which it most certainly is not.

"Historically, early cord clamping was introduced in the late 1970’s, but research shows this is harmful to the newborn due to depriving baby of approximately one third of their intended blood volume. The BBC programme is missing a wonderful opportunity to educate their audience on best practice which ideally shows no clamping of the cord and a natural (and beautiful) transition of baby from uterine to extra uterine life.”