The Blackburn Birth Centre reach a special milestone

Annette Dugdale, Katriona Trafford (Manager of Blackburn Birth Centre), Colette Gregory (Midwife and

Annette Dugdale, Katriona Trafford (Manager of Blackburn Birth Centre), Colette Gregory (Midwife and Auntie of the 1st baby born at the centre), Samantha Gregory (mother), Eve Squire (First baby born at the centre) and Gill Brandon (Manager of Blackburn Birth Centre) - Credit: Archant

A centre devoted to natural childbirth has just celebrated its 5000th arrival. Chief photographer Kirsty Thompson captured the celebration.

Asja Abbas with Eesha Ashraf

Asja Abbas with Eesha Ashraf - Credit: Archant

With waiting lists, staffing problems and funding shortfalls, our hard-pressed medics could be forgiven for thinking this isn’t exactly a golden era for the NHS.

But in East Lancashire they are recognised as world class. The area recently became the first recipient of a Gold Award from Unicef, the United Nations Children’s Fund. It’s a unique achievement.

This award recognises the area’s 20 years of success in a ‘baby friendly’ initiative which provides essential nurturing and feeding advice and general support to families with new babies.

One of the key elements in that success story is a small base in Blackburn which recently celebrated a remarkable milestone. The Birth Centre, considered the most successful of its kind in the country, provides a service for women who don’t need hospital care to have their babies. And not long ago, mums, dads, children and staff staged a party to mark its 5000th birth. Lancashire Life was there to record the day in pictures.

Matt Webb, Lilah Webb and January Carrington

Matt Webb, Lilah Webb and January Carrington - Credit: Archant

The centre opened back in 2010 as a free-standing centre away from the normal maternity hospital set-up. Someone had the bright idea that hospital wasn’t always the right environment for mums-to-be who are not anticipating any problems.

But this is far from a conveyor-belt system designed to cut costs or provide relief for conventional hospitals. Gill Brandon, who manages the centre with Katriona Trafford, says the aim is to provide a relaxed ‘home-from-home’ atmosphere where pregnant women are not cosseted as if they are sickly patients requiring treatment.

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‘Pregnancy is not an illness,’ says Gill. ‘The days when women were wrapped in cotton wool and told to put their feet up and do nothing are a thing of the past.’

At the Blackburn centre women are encouraged to keep fit. ‘We do active bumps – exercises for the mums because fitness is very important and we also offer yoga sessions,’ added Gill, who admitted that growing obesity levels were adding to problems for staff and expectant mothers.

Most of the women who use the centre are keen to avoid ‘medicalised’ births. In other words, they want the process to be as natural as possible. ‘But we don’t push them in either direction. It is their choice and we can only advise,’ she says.

As well as natural birth, the 50-strong team at the centre utilise three birth pools, which are used by 60 per cent of mums, and they also provide alternatives such as aromatherapy where special oils are used to help relax women during labour.

‘It’s about choice,’ says Gill. ‘But it is also about being safe and having a wonderful birth experience. However, we ensure the women talk to midwives so if there are risk factors they are always advised to go to centres where there are doctors.’

Gill paid tribute to colleague Sue Henry whose work providing nutritional advice had resulted in a remarkable upturn in the number of mother breastfeeding their babies. She had been an essential part of the NHS Trust’s ‘baby friendly’ programme. Part of the role of the centre’s staff has also been to reach out into the community to continue providing sound post-natal advice.

‘Among our many memorable moments were both of Sue’s daughters giving birth here and one of our midwives being present at the birth of her great nephew,’ says Gill.

‘The Blackburn Birth Centre is regarded as the most success of its kind in the country and that is something we are all very proud of.

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