Women 'want more support from midwives immediately after giving birth'
One in seven women is left alone and worried during early labour - while only half get the support they need immediately after birth, according to an official NHS survey.
The new poll of more than 20,000 women, who gave birth in February this year, found improvements in several areas of maternity care compared to the previous year.
This included more women being given a choice over where they give birth, and women routinely being asked about their mental health.
But the survey also found that not all women had a midwife with them when they wanted one, and women also struggled to get help in what they considered a reasonable timeframe.
During labour and birth, 64% of women said they were always able to get a member of staff to help them within reasonable time if they needed attention, but this dropped to 54% in the hours following delivery.
When asked if they were left alone during labour and birth at a time that worried them, 14% of women said they were left alone during early labour (up from 13% in 2013).
Some 9% were left alone and worried during the later stages, while 8% were left alone and worried after the birth. Meanwhile, 2% were left alone and worried during the birth itself.
Of those who raised concerns during labour and birth, not all women (18%) felt that their concerns were taken seriously.
And not all new mothers felt they were given help with feeding their baby.
Some 54% were always given support and advice about feeding their baby if they needed it during evenings and weekends, but 24% were not given advice "at all" - and 22% only received support sometimes.
Nevertheless, confidence and trust in midwives during labour and birth has increased (to 80%, up from 78%).
Some 41% of women also said they were offered a choice of giving birth in a midwife led unit or birth centre, a 6% rise from 2013.
The poll was carried out by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) across the 133 NHS trusts in England.
Professor Sir Mike Richards, the CQC's chief inspector of hospitals, said: "Every single woman deserves to be treated with dignity and personalised care when having a baby, and so I am glad that the findings suggest women are experiencing better care and treatment during pregnancy and birth.
"From our own inspection work of maternity services so far - rating just over 60% of trusts as either Good or Outstanding - there is no doubt of the improvement work that is still needed in order to narrow the wide gap of variation that we know exists."
Of those women who had a normal delivery and did not require forceps or ventouse, there was a rise in the numbers giving birth with their legs in stirrups, from 17% in 2010 to 22% in 2015.
This is contrary to best practice guidance, which recommends that women are able to move about throughout labour unless they need assistance.
However, fewer women overall reported giving birth lying down, with more giving birth while standing, squatting, or kneeling, which is thought to aid labour.
Katherine Rake, chief executive of Healthwatch England, said: "While it's encouraging to see some improvements in the CQC's survey, worryingly one in three women still do not feel they are always given the information or explanations they need during labour.
"This echoes the findings of local Healthwatch across the country, who found that often women do not feel involved or informed during their maternity care, experiencing problems such as unclear breastfeeding advice and inconsistent antenatal support."