In the weeks following the festive season Greater Manchester’s midwives always see more confirmed pregnancies, leading to a higher birth rate in September and October.
And with Valentines Day next week offering another chance for couples to spend quality time together, the NHS in Greater Manchester has launched a new campaign to encourage expectant women to book in earlier for pregnancy screening tests.
As Soon As You’re Pregnant (abbreviated to ASAP) highlights the importance of mums-to-be attending a first appointment with the midwife service before 10 weeks of pregnancy.
Midwives offer a set of vital screening tests, including those for sickle cell and thalassaemia, that should be done before ten weeks. Both are serious blood disorders that can be passed down to babies by their parents and having either condition usually means lifelong additional healthcare.
Dr Helen Wall is screening and immunisations lead for NHS Greater Manchester Integrated Care, which has designed the ASAP campaign in conjunction with midwifes and women with experience of sickle cell and thalassaemia.
Dr Wall, a working GP, said: “This is a busy time of year for our midwifes! Couples spending more time together over the festive break – and around Valentines Day – means an influx of women coming into our maternity services over the next few weeks.
“We’ve found that women who haven’t been through a pregnancy before might think that their first contact with maternity services should be around the 12-week mark. In fact we need to see them well before that.
“The midwife will do standard health checks like taking blood pressure and offer screening tests that are usually done by taking a blood sample. In the case of thalassaemia and sickle cell, which is offered to women from particular ethnic backgrounds, these should be done before 10 weeks to be most effective.”
Dr Wall added: “We want to get the message out there that women should book in with a midwife as soon as they have a confirmed pregnancy. The earlier we see them, the earlier we can offer a full set of screening tests to check on their health and their baby’s health, and offer specialist ongoing support and care if needed.”
Eileen Stringer, Greater Manchester Clinical Lead Midwife, said: “We want to encourage women to book to see a midwife as early as possible in their pregnancy – ideally before 10 weeks. Meeting your midwife is the first step towards a healthy pregnancy and ensures that you get the help and support that you and your baby need.
“Screening for sickle cell and thalassaemia is done by a simple and quick blood test. Booking before 10 weeks means that you can have this test early, find out about all your options and make informed decisions with the support of your midwife.”
A campaign website at pregnancyscreeninggm.co.uk details what women can expect from their first appointment with a midwife, about pregnancy screening and information about sickle cell and thalassaemia. It also offers booking details for maternity services in all parts of Greater Manchester and can be translated into multiple languages.
Nurse Alessandra is mum to ten-month old Ogechukwu, and lives in Bolton with husband Anene. Alessandra is encouraging all women to get booked in with their local midwife service as soon as they find out they are pregnant.
This is particularly important for women from African, Caribbean, South Asian and Mediterranean backgrounds who are more likely to have a pregnancy affected by sickle cell or thalassaemia.
Alessandra discovered she had the sickle cell trait in childhood. She said: “I grew up in Nigeria and most people there know about sickle cell and if they have the sickle cell trait or not. When my family moved to the UK this wasn’t the case, it’s just not on people’s radars here.
“I think it’s important to know, and when I met my husband I asked him early on what his sickle cell status was. I would encourage all couples to know their statuses early in the relationship.
“When I found out I was pregnant I engaged straight away with my GP and with my midwife. My husband does not have the sickle cell trait, so the baby was at a very low risk of sickle cell disease. That was reassuring for us.”
She added: “It’s important to find out what your child’s status is, what your status is and what your partner’s is so you can relax and enjoy the rest of your pregnancy. Or you can be prepared for how to care for your baby and looking after a child that has sickle cell.”
If a mother is screened and found to have the thalassaemia or sickle cell trait, then the father of the child is offered a test. Decisions can then be made about further testing and care.
Moss Side mother-of-six Augustina has the thalassaemia trait, and her husband Simms was offered screening tests to check his status.
She said: “I had never considered thalassaemia or sickle cell before getting pregnant, and it was a real shock to me to find I had the thalassaemia trait. We were fortunate that Simms did not have the trait and we have had six healthy children, including my youngest Acheampomah.
“I would say to any women planning a baby to consider seeing a midwife as early as possible and to take all of the tests and screening offered. It is definitely better to have the information to base your decisions on.”