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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 2018-191, new figures released by NHS Digital show.

The use of analgesics or anaesthetics before or during delivery has dropped from 67% of all deliveries in 2008-09 to 61% in 2018-191, 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) database2.

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 tests3.  

MSDS data are classed as experimental statistics.  Therefore, 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 includes4.

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 shows5:

  • 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


Read the full report

NHS Maternity Statistics, 2018-19

Notes to editors

  1. A percentage point is the numerical difference between two percentages.
  2. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) collects information on births and maternities (maternities are equivalent to deliveries in HES).  Most of the information, for both live births and stillbirths, is supplied to registrars by one or both parents. As it is a legal requirement to register all births, the ONS is the official source of delivery and birth information and should be used in preference to HES and MSDS maternity data held by NHS Digital.  The age breakdown data from HES reported here is provided to bring context to the other results.
  3. The Maternity Services Data Set (MSDS) has been developed to help achieve better outcomes of care for mothers, babies and children using NHS-funded maternity services in England. It provides comparative data that will be used to improve clinical quality and reduce health inequalities.
  4. Due to partial coverage of activity reported to the MSDS both geographically and over time during 2018-19, it is advised that the following figures should be described in terms of all submitters to the MSDS rather than England level figures.
  5. Figures on smoking status in this release relate to the time of the booking appointment which, based on NICE recommendations, should ideally take place before 10 weeks gestation age in the pregnancy. This is different to information reported within the Smoking at Time of Delivery (SATOD) data collection which is the official source of data for the proportion of women smoking at the time of delivery. This information is captured around 6 months after the time of the smoking status at booking appointment. Data published from SATOD is used within the Public Health Outcomes Framework and CCG Outcome Indicator Set and is used to monitor a number of existing national ambitions.

NHS Digital is the national information and technology partner of the health and care system.  Our team of information analysis, technology and project management experts create, deliver and manage the crucial digital systems, services, products and standards upon which health and care professionals depend.  During the 2018/19 financial year, NHS Digital published 265 statistical reports. Our vision is to harness the power of information and technology to make health and care better.

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Last edited: 7 December 2022 11:13 am