Painkiller use in childbirth drops six percentage points in a decade

The use of analgesics or anaesthetics before or during delivery has dropped from 67% of all deliveries in 2008-09 to 61% in 2018-19, new figures released by NHS Digital show.

The number of deliveries is also at its lowest level in a decade, falling 7.5% from 652,638 in 2008-09 to 603,766 in 2018-19. There has been a 3.6% drop from 2017-18, when there were 626,203 deliveries.

The NHS Maternity Statistics, 2018-19 brings together detailed information on hospital care received before, during and after delivery from the Hospital Episodes Statistics (HES) database.

The NHS Digital report also shows:

  • Deliveries for women under 20 have more than halved in a decade, falling from 42,209 in 2008-09, to 16,956 in 2018-19
  • Deliveries for women in their thirties has increased by seven per cent, climbing from 279,206 in 2008-09, to 298,590 in 2018-19. 

The report also uses figures from the Maternity Services Data Set (MSDS) which provides information on a range of measures reported at a mother’s booking appointment, as well as information on the labour and delivery along with babies’ demographics, diagnoses and screening tests.

According to NHS Digital, MSDS data is classed as 'experimental statistics' and any figures from this dataset should be treated with caution, but it can give a useful indication of key patterns, from the subset of women whose data it includes.

This year, the reported MSDS data includes new figures on folic acid status and weekly alcohol intake at booking appointments.

Overall, 83% of women reported taking a folic acid supplement prior to or on confirmation of pregnancy, of which the lowest proportion was women under 20 (69%). 

Alcohol status was reported in only 60% (327,495) of antenatal bookings.  97.2% of these women (318,363) reported a zero alcohol intake.  Of the remaining:

  • 2.0% (6,613) reported consuming 1-4 units
  • 0.5% (1,512) reported consuming 5-9 units
  • 0.2% (512) reported consuming 10-14 units
  • 0.2% (495) reported consuming more than 14 units a week.

MSDS data also shows:

  • 82% (370,590) of women with babies born at a gestation of at least 37 weeks had skin to skin contact within an hour of birth
  • 75% (372,637) of babies with a reported first feed type, received breast milk as their first feed
  • 50% (230,311) of women were recorded as overweight or obese at their booking appointment
  • 12% (62,314) of women reported that they smoked at their booking appointment.