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Maternity: The mother of all failings

Media Release, October 2008

The mother of all failings

How the failings of our maternity system are putting the health and lives of New Zealand mothers and babies at risk is the focus of an explosive new book by Christchurch GP and author Dr Lynda Exton.

The Baby Business, what's happened to maternity care in New Zealand? - Dr Exton's second book - exposes the real story about how unsafe our maternity system has become over the past 18 years and how this happened.

Dr Exton says she was motivated to write this extensively researched book after a disquieting increase in the number of stories she was hearing from women of near misses, tragedies and unnecessarily complicated pregnancies and births.

When Dr Exton first started looking for the facts behind the stories, it soon became apparent that frighteningly little official information was actually available about the impacts of the 1990 Maternity Reforms.

From the data that was available, she uncovered some sobering facts about the decline of our maternity system since the reforms, including:

- New Zealand's infant mortality rate ranking getting steadily worse compared to other countries
- Annual maternal mortality recently moving from single to double figures
- Women struggling to even find a midwife to care for them
- Dramatic rises in hospital admissions for pregnancy complications and caesarean rates
- Falling breastfeeding rates since the reforms began
- Coroners' calls for a comprehensive review of the maternity system falling on deaf ears.

In delving deep into the history and background of maternity care in New Zealand and analysing the dramatic changes since 1990, Dr Exton concluded that major changes to this key health service have been made without adequate monitoring or independent audit. Even more concerning, she uncovered a clear link between these worrying trends and government policies that have forced family doctors out of maternity care.

Dr Exton hopes the book - which has been two years in the writing - will be a wake up call to health planners and those who care for pregnant and birthing women, but also provide advice to expectant parents about ways mothers can be better informed about the maternity system to keep themselves and their babies safe.

"The bottom line is, if you are an expectant parent the maternity system isn't necessarily set up with your needs first and foremost as you might think it should be.

"I hope the book will empower parents to ask more questions, demand more answers and ensure they don't miss out on the things that can mean all the difference in their care.

"There is a way forward to a system which puts the health of mother and baby first. But we must not make any more major changes to our maternity system in the 'dark'. Women need better information to obtain a clearer picture of the service."


The Baby Business - what's happened to maternity care in New Zealand? is published by Craig Potton Publishing, and will hit the shelves at bookstores around the country on October 8 with a RRP of $29.95.

About the Author
Dr LYNDA EXTON MB ChB FRNZCGP Dip Obst has been a doctor for 25 years, 20 of those years in her family practice in suburban Christchurch. She has a particular interest in the wellbeing of children and in assisting parents, and has spoken at many parent support and education seminars. Lynda is the author of 'Healthy Start', a health and parenting resource for young New Zealand families. Lynda is a Fellow of the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners and has a postgraduate Diploma of Obstetrics. She and her husband John have a teenage son and daughter.

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