Mothers will receive one-to-one care from a named midwife during labour and birth as part of government plans to combat postnatal depression.
Women who have a miscarriage or stillbirth and parents who are forced to cope with the death of a baby will also be offered increased support from theNHS.
Under the plans, health workers will be given enhanced training so they can spot the early signs of postnatal depression.
The move was welcomed by the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) and parenting forums. Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the RCM, said the pledges were “very good news” for women and midwives.
“These are positive plans from the government targeting areas of maternity care that are under-prioritised and under-resourced,” she said.
“The impact of a miscarriage or a stillbirth can be devastating for the woman and her family and postnatal depression can be a crippling and sometimes fatal illness. Early detection and treatment is crucial.
“It is also excellent to see an intention to ensure that long-standing NHS commitments, such as one-to-one care in labour and choice about where and how women give birth, become a reality for all women.”
According to the RCM, 5,000 more midwives would be needed to deliver the care proposed.
Justine Roberts, co-founder of Mumsnet, welcomed the renewed support but said a sustained effort was needed to ensure mothers benefited from the changes.
“Sadly there are many experiences shared on Mumsnet of women not getting the best care when they need it,” she said.
“The announcement that services provided during miscarriage are to be monitored is a real advance towards identifying best and worst practice and therefore towards improving the care received.”
Sally Russell, co-founder of Netmums, also welcomed plans to address postnatal depression – a common condition that is often kept hidden.
“Most mums and dads find it difficult to admit they are suffering and yet it can be a blight on their lives,” she said. “Having better support from local services could make a big difference and we’re delighted that the government has identified this as a priority.”
Alongside beefed-up training for health visitors – who provide services for expectant and new parents after birth – the government has pledged to improve maternity care by ensuring women have one named midwife to oversee their care during pregnancy and after they have their baby, making sure every women has one-to-one midwife care and giving parents-to-be the choice over where and how they give birth.
The NHS will also be judged on how well it looks after parents who have miscarried, suffered a stillbirth or cot death, with patients asked to rate their care.
According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, 10-15% of women who have a baby suffer from postnatal depression.
Several celebrities, including actor Gwyneth Paltrow, have spoken of their experience of the condition, which usually starts within a few months of birth. Around one in three women experience symptoms in pregnancy, which then continue. Treatment options depend on the severity of the depression, but include medication and counselling.
The health secretary, Andrew Lansley, said: “We have listened to the concerns of women about their experiences of maternity care, which is why we are putting in place a ‘named midwife’ policy to ensure consistency of care.
“Not least, we will focus on the quality of care given to mothers-to-be and measure women’s experience of their maternity care for the first time.”