Simone O’Kane speaks to the women involved about the NHS centre which is celebrating a milestone in caring for mums in a more old-fashioned way

MORE than 3,000 women have now had their babies delivered safely at Blackburn’s Birthing Centre since it opened in September 2010.

With a dedicated team of professionals, the Park Lee Road site provides post-natal and ante-natal care around the clock.

The centre is led by community midwives rather than doctors.

But it wasn’t an easy journey to have the NHS facility brought to Blackburn.

For the former head of midwifery Sheena Byrom OBE, it was her aim to get the community element back into childbirth and to prove midwives could do it alone.

As she reminisces about her time at Whalley’s Bramley Meade and Darwen’s Bull Hill birthing centres before they closed in the early 1980s, Sheena says she is proud to be a part of the history that is repeating, only in a better way.

“I had the experience of being able to work in the maternity units all those years ago, learning how to be a midwife, simply by using your heart and your hands. Now after working hard to get Blackburn Birthing Centre, it is one of the most successful birthing centres in the country,” says Sheena who is the author of Catching Babies, a story about her time as a midwife in East Lancashire.

Sheena, whose plaque of recognition hangs in the entrance at the birthing centre, says the centre provides a similar form of care to the way women were treated in the 1950s and prior, that has been highlighted in the BBC TV series, Call the Midwife.

“It was the right time for Bramley Meade and Bull Hill to close, the doctors were the gatekeepers and midwives didn’t have a say. So now it’s midwives who are the first point of call and I am so overwhelmed with what has been achieved. The staff have grasped the opportunity to make it the best that it can be and it has exceeded my expectations. It is important for women to have this and it’s also wonderful for midwives. Midwives didn’t work like this when doctors were involved so this is what we wanted and what we have achieved. Although if I had never been at the hospitals working with team midwifery and GPs then we wouldn’t be here now.”

When mums-to-be are invited to look around the £900,000 unit, it’s easy to compare the birthing centre to hotel accomodation. There are four birthing rooms and inside each the atmosphere is tranquil, and surprisingly there’s a double bed, accompanied by a bedside table and lamp. Each room has a large en-suite and CD player with patio doors leading out into the gardens.

In the postnatal ward, there’s another four beds so the centre caters for eight women at a time, providing an intimate and home-from- home atmosphere. There are no visiting hours at the centre as well as there being no limit to how many people can be in the room when mum goes into labour.

Emergencies and complications aren’t common in birthing units and according to lead midwife, Caroline Broome – only low-risk women are invited to deliver there safely.

Caroline has been delivering babies since 1986 and offers her reassurance that women planning births at home or in midwifery units have fewer interventions than women giving birth in obstetric units. This is also backed by The Birthplace cohort study.

Caroline, who recently welcomed the 1st baby Eve Squire and mum Samantha Gregory - as well as the 3,000th baby Millie and mother Lucy Preston, back into the centre says women are in safe hands.

“This is the best job in the world.

“It’s absolutely lovely. We have had some amazing births here, especially from mums who have experienced a traumatic birth in the past and are quite anxious.

“Women put their trust and confidence in us and that is how it should be.”

Head of Midwifery at East Lancashire Hospitals, Anita Fleming, has worked for the trust for 31 years and has seen how birthing centres have sucessfully re-established.

She said: "This is a very different model to how traditional birthing units once were, when they were GP led. Around 7,000 babies are born in East Lancashire every year and are delivered very safely at East Lancashire's maternity units.

"We work very closely with the neonatal doctors and have an excellent partnership with the different doctors across the trust. It gives women the reasssurance they need."

First baby born at Blackburn Birthing Centre
Samantha Gregory, 42, from Blackburn delivered daughter Evie Squire,3, at Blackburn Birthing Centre::

“You feel much more relaxed giving birth in a non-hospital environment.  I was so chilled out and my partner was really welcomed too. He said that his experience was a totally different one from when he witnessed his older children’s births. It’s a homely place and I would highly recommend it.”

3000th baby born at Blackburn Birthing Centre
Lucy Preston, 30, from Blackburn delivered both children Ruby,3, and Millie, three weeks at Blackburn Birthing Centre:

“It is a very relaxed environment, I was sat outside having a brew when I was actually in labour and I felt relaxed. There was no question about it, I looked around and I knew I wanted to come here. It’s like a hotel, it’s so chilled and my experience here was great.”