A charity which helps vulnerable woman, refugees and asylum seekers on their journey to giving birth has scooped a major national award which comes with a substantial funding boost.  

Glasgow charity Amma Birth Companions works to improve the health, wellbeing and birthing experiences of pregnant women facing vulnerable circumstances. 

The charity was picked from a list of more than 500 across the UK as one of the 10 winners of the 2024 GSK IMPACT Awards. 

The awards, which are delivered in partnership with The King’s Fund, are a mark of excellence in the charity sector and come £40,000 in unrestricted funding. 

They are designed to recognise the outstanding work of small and medium-sized charities working to improve people’s health and wellbeing in the UK. 

Formed in 2019, Amma Birth Companions is a small Scottish charity that offers care, information and support to women and birthing people who experience multiple disadvantages, which could mean they face poor birth outcomes and giving birth alone.  

Most of the women the charity works with are seeking asylum or have insecure immigration status. 

Stark statistics on racial disparities show that maternal mortality rates among women from Black or Asian ethnic backgrounds are far higher than for white women.  

These inequalities are even deeper for pregnant women from migrant populations, such as asylum seekers or refugees, who face multiple barriers such as isolation, language and insecure housing.  

The Herald: Mehr Abbas with her sons Momin age 2 and Noraiz age 9 mths. Mehr had assistance during Noraiz's birth with a volunteer from Amma birth companionsMehr Abbas with her sons Momin age 2 and Noraiz age 9 mths. Mehr had assistance during Noraiz's birth with a volunteer from Amma birth companions (Image: NQ/Colin Mearns)

Some mothers are living on just over £6 a day of state-provided funding and face giving birth alone with no support network. 

Amma will shortly publish its own research on birth experiences highlighting the systemic disparities their clients encounter, including poor and discriminatory practices, inadequate interpreter provision, and high rates of intervention.  

The report will also present recommendations to create a more equitable maternal care system for those most impacted by adverse maternal health outcomes.  

The judges were particularly impressed by the huge impact Amma has achieved in a short time by identifying a crucial gap in suitable birthing support for this group of women, in particular the need to have someone on call, willing to drop everything and help a woman through labour.  

The charity’s Birth and Postnatal Companionship service is central to ensuring the women it supports don’t give birth alone.  

Trained ‘birth companions’ provide one-to-one support from the third trimester of pregnancy and help women develop a personal birth plan.  

They are on call from 37 weeks and will attend the birth and ensure the women’s voice is heard during birth decisions.  

READ MORE: The unique charity helping pregnant asylum seekers give birth

The award judges praised the innovative resources the charity has created to support this, for example a very simple but user-friendly birth plan visual aid that helps bypass language barriers and allow its clients to easily identify and communicate their birth preferences.  

With the help of its 70 volunteers, Amma provides a range of other emotional and practical support services, from pregnancy and birth through to early parenthood. 

Last year the charity supported clients from 45 different countries, and currently has 70 pregnant clients and mothers with children up to two-years-old.  

The women Amma supports are part of a rapidly increasing demographic group, and demand for the charity’s services has also grown steeply, doubling year on year since its inception. In 2022/23 the charity supported nearly 200 women. 

The award win comes at a time when the triple threat of rising costs, falling income and increased demand continues to put local charities and their finances under extreme pressure. 

Despite this, the charity has continued to grow its reach and impact, using the lived experiences of the women it supports to advocate for improvements to policy and practice. 

The judges noted that Amma is a significant voice in the area of maternal health in Scotland. It has built strong partnerships with other local charities and community organisations and works in collaboration with the Glasgow midwifery service.  

The charity is also leading work to influence government policy on racialised inequalities in NHS maternity services. 

Data collected by the charity shows that women who have used its services report dramatically improved outcomes, including more access to the services they need, reduced isolation, increased confidence and control during pregnancy, reduced fear around childbirth, and feeling better able to meet the needs of their babies. 

The Herald:

Katie Pinnock, Director, UK Charitable Partnerships at GSK, said: “Amma Birth Companions is a small but incredibly effective charity, giving voice and choice to marginalised women such as asylum seekers at a crucial time in their lives.  

“As the only charity in Scotland specialising in this work, its services are critical to prevent poor birth outcomes among some of Glasgow’s most vulnerable mothers and to give their babies the best possible start in life.  

“In addition to its targeted support services for pregnant women and new mothers, Amma is also driving improvements in maternity care in Scotland, by using the lived experience of the women it supports to directly shape government policy.” 

READ MORE: Refugee turned SNP politician says UK Gov's asylum policies 'fuelling far-right'
Maree Aldam, CEO of Amma Birth Companions, said: “We are deeply honoured to receive this prestigious award.  

This recognition fuels our dedication to enhancing maternal wellbeing and reinforces the significance of our efforts to tackle systemic disparities in perinatal care. We gratefully accept this award on behalf of our entire Amma community of staff, volunteers and other supporters whose collective commitment to improving birth experiences deepens the impact of our work.”