The proportion of pregnant women having a spontaneous labour in England has dropped to just over half (55.1%) in the past year, figures from NHS Digital show.
The numbers have dropped in the past year from 57.4% in 2015-16.
Over the same time, the proportion of caesareans undertaken before the onset of labour has increased from 14.7% to 15.5% and induced labours have increased from 27.9% to 29.4%.
In 2006-07, the proportion of pregnant women having a spontaneous labour was 68.7%.
Ten years ago, caesareans undertaken before the onset of labour accounted for 11% of births and induced labours for 20.3%.
RCM director for midwifery Louise Silverton said that more information was needed as to why these increases had taken place.
‘It is important to look at the effects of initiatives such as the drive to detect babies who aren't growing as well as they should be and to reduce stillbirth rates. The RCM fully supports these but more needs to be done to be accurate in these assessments and reduce false positives,’ she said.
Abi Wood, head of campaigns and communications at charity NCT, said that women and their families needed to be at the core of all maternity services.
‘While it can feel frustrating to go past a ‘due date’, this is only an estimated time. Pregnant women can always talk to their midwives about options including the risks and benefits to them and their babies of inductions, caesareans and waiting longer for spontaneous labour,’ she said.
Abi added that NICE guidance made it clear that women’s decisions about whether or not to have an induction should be respected, and that the timing should take into account their preferences and circumstances.
The latest figures from NHS Digital showed that there were 636,000 births in NHS hospitals during 2016-17, a decrease of 1.8% from 2015-16 (648,000).
NHS Maternity Statistics 2016-17 also included data relating to delivery and birth episodes and their booking appointments. For the first time, this publication examines data from Hospital Episode Statistics and experimental data from the Maternity Services Data Set with the aim of providing a more complete picture of NHS maternity activity.
The proportion of pregnant women who make use of anaesthetic or analgesics before or during birth has increased slightly in the past year from 59.4% in 2015-16 to 60% of births in 2016-17.
The proportion of pregnant women who make use of anaesthetic or analgesics before or during is however lower than that seen in 2006-07 where it was 68.6%.
In 2016-17, 80% of women with babies born at 37 weeks’ gestation or more had skin-to-skin contact within one hour of birth. And 74% of babies received breastmilk (maternal or donor) for their first feed.
Access the figures here.