Giving birth is a major life event. If you are autistic, you may need different support to a neurotypical parent. This study aims to understand the experiences that autistic mothers and birthing people have had of maternity services and to find ways that they could be improved.

Birth experiences can affect both the parent and child in terms of their physical and mental health. These experiences, whether good or bad, will shape the parenting relationship, affect the parent’s confidence and general wellbeing, and could impact on other family members and the wider community. It's important that we give everyone the best support possible - right now services may be failing some autistic mothers and birthing people.

What is the need for the project?

Autistic people may have difficulty with sensory issues, and differences in communication preferences and may need more care and support while giving birth than the general population. If they don't get the right care, it is easy for them to experience isolation, anxiety and depression. A recent small study suggests that maternity services do not have the skills to support autistic women and birthing people. It is likely that some of the things that will benefit autistic people will benefit all people giving birth.

The research process

The research will involve mothers and birthing people from across England. The researcher will use different ways of collecting information from autistic parents and maternity services staff.

The researcher will keep a journal to record thoughts, discussions held with other researchers, other autistic individuals, and professionals working in the field.

All this information will be analysed to identify any trends, including by region, between NHS and private experiences, and over time.

How will this improve lives?

This project will produce a comprehensive report of experiences. It will suggest changes to services that will improve the experience of expectant and new mothers and birthing people. We will work with the researcher to make sure the NHS and Government recognise this information and make steps to improve the support given to autistic people using maternity services. If we have healthier, happier parents, we can build a better society.

This is a Charles Sharland Autistic Grant Scheme Award, supported by businessman and autism philanthropist Charles Sharland.