Staff Shortages Impact Mothers’ Safety, Midwives Say

The vast majority of midwives in Iceland say mothers’ safety has been put at risk due to staff shortages. Almost one-third of midwives have considered leaving the profession altogether within the last two years. Too much strain, staff shortages, and dissatisfaction with how the shortening of the work week has impacted shift work are all named as key reasons.

The data is from a recent survey by BHM which was commissioned by Icelandic Association of Midwives last month. According to the survey, 85% of midwives say the safety of mothers has been put at risk at some point in the past six months due to staff shortages, and 48% of them say that such incidents happen more often than before.

More strain on shift workers

When asked to consider the last six months, 85% of midwives say they have encountered situations where staffing was not sufficient to ensure minimum safety requirements for patients. This percentage is lower among midwives who work daytime hours (72%) and higher among those who work shifts (93%). Notably, 39% of shift workers stated they have often encountered such situations within the past six months.

Dissatisfaction with impacts of “shortened” work week

Three-quarters of midwives stated that the level of strain they experience on the job is “high” or “very high,” and 70% say that strain has increased over time. These figures are higher among shift workers than daytime workers.

When asked how their working conditions had changed with the shortening of the working week, 54% of midwives working shifts in the public healthcare system believe that working conditions have worsened as a result, while only 30% believe that working conditions have improved. There is great satisfaction with the shortened work week among midwives in daytime work, while dissatisfaction among shift workers is mainly related to a system that financially incentivises them to take more evening and night shifts, as well as the negative effect on work flexibility.

Staff shortages and strain have been an issue across Iceland’s healthcare system for years, including among nurses and in emergency care.

Baby Boom in North Iceland

baby swimming

Almost 500 babies were born in the Akureyri Hospital in North Iceland last year. RÚV reports that this is an increase of nearly 26% from the year before. The announcement was made at the hospital’s annual meeting this week. There was a general increase in patient numbers: Akureyri Hospital treated 13,500 patients in 2021, up 22% from the year before.

In 2021, there were precisely 491 babies born in 488 births (three sets of twins) at Akureyri Hospital. In 2020, by contrast, there were 397 babies born in 392 births (that year, five sets of twins). This makes 2021 Akureyri’s second-most fruitful year on the books; the current record for most babies born in Iceland’s ‘capital of the north’ in one year is 515 babies in 2010.

Births were up in the actual capital as well, but not nearly as much. In 2021, 3,466 babies were born at Reykjavík’s National and University Hospital, which is just 5% over the previous year’s rate.

Akureyri Hospital CEO Hildigunnur Svavarsdóttir says the reason for the jump in birth numbers is difficult to determine with any certainty, although she readily concedes to the winking supposition that “people got bored during COVID.”

“That’s one explanation for sure, and a lot of people are giving each other knowing smiles,” she remarked. “But I have no explanation for it—I just think it’s a really joyous thing. We could do with more of us up here.”

‘Mom Training’ Workout Groups in High Demand

A new exercise regimen and community is in high demand among new mothers in Reykjavík. Vísir reports that there has been a spike in the popularity of so-called mömmuþjálfun, or ‘Mom Training’ classes, in which new moms work out with each other and bring their kids along, too. Mom Training sessions focus on areas of the body that were directly impacted by childbirth and give new mothers a rejuvenating activity outside the house during their maternity leave.

Mom Training is the most popular offering at Afrek Functional Fitness, with three classes already sold out and a standing waitlist.

Screenshot, Stöð 2

“We just started with one class in January, but since then, in order to meet demand, we added classes in February and again in March,” said Hildur Karen Jóhannsdóttir, a trainer at Afrek who is also herself a new mother.

“It’s insanely fun,” said Andrea Björk Harðardóttir, a mom who takes part in the classes. “The exercises are varied and there’s something for everyone. Her fellow classmate Jónína Einarsdóttir agreed: “It’s necessary and so much fun. You get so much out of it.”

Screenshot, Stöð 2

Moms are able to ride exercise bikes, do step exercises, lift weights and more—and all while their babies watch from nearby carriers or loll about on the mats around them. A small playpen is also set up in one corner of the gym.

‘One of my goals is that they walk out sweaty’

Hildur Karen credits a recent boom in births with the course’s popularity, but not entirely. “I think women are looking for something more. One of my goals is that when they come in here, they walk out sweaty and having had a bit of an outlet.”

The participants enjoy opportunity to get out of the house during their maternity leave and to “get back into the shape you were in,” says Andrea Björk.

The fact that new moms can bring their children with them while they exercise is also key.

“I couldn’t come work out if I couldn’t bring her with me,” said Jónína, bouncing her new baby. “And she thinks it’s fun, too.”