Press release

NCT archive preserved by the Wellcome Library documents 60 years of maternity care and childbirth

The archive of NCT (National Childbirth Trust) documenting 60 years of the organisation's history, has been catalogued by the Wellcome Library and is available to access for research from today.

The archive covers the activities of NCT from its formation in 1956 to the present day, providing a unique insight into maternity care and childbirth through the second half of the twentieth century. It is a valuable record of the organisation's development, from grassroots beginnings in village halls and living rooms to becoming a household name. It encompasses both NCT's internal documents, including correspondence and minutes, and external publications, such as campaign material, policy papers, audio visual materials and teaching resources. Correspondence from women sharing accounts of their own experiences and photographs of antenatal classes give personal and informative snapshots of pregnancy and childbirth over a period when attitudes and practice around both altered dramatically.

NCT, which will celebrate its 60th anniversary in 2016, was originally called the Natural Childbirth Association and was established for the promotion and better understanding of natural childbirth as described and advocated by the British obstetrician Grantly Dick-Read. Its work opposed the over-medicalisation of childbirth and the charity was famous for high profile campaigns promoting breastfeeding, supporting home births and against the overuse of interventions such as caesarean sections, all of which are documented in the archive. Today NCT is the UK's largest parent charity supporting all parents through the First 1000 Days of pregnancy and parenthood and continues to campaign on issues including perinatal mental health, maternity pay and the cost of childcare.

Highlights from the archive include:

  • labour and birth reports from mothers, 1959-1991
  • surveys and reports documenting women's experiences and attitudes towards childbirth, choice in childbirth, induction and postnatal care
  • policy research papers documenting NCT's campaigning and lobbying work, including papers documenting NCT's interactions with Government and key campaigns (including breastfeeding promotion, home birth and birth environment and maternity services)
  • audio visual materials, including footage of NCT antenatal classes and women discussing their birth experiences
  • teaching and education material, including antenatal class notebooks, teaching resources, and correspondence about natural childbirth techniques
  • NCT publications, including early newsletters, information sheets, booklets and leaflets, and books.

The archive was deposited at the Wellcome Library in 2014 and consists of over 270 boxes of material that have taken a year to catalogue. It complements other collections held at the Library, including the archives of Grantly Dick-Read and the National Birthday Trust Fund, creating a rich resource for exploring the range of views, and often impassioned debates, surrounding childbirth in the twentieth century.

Elena Carter, Project Archivist at the Wellcome Library, said: "NCT’s archive not only tells the story of the institutional history of the charity, but also reflects how the experiences and expectations of parents, as well as the attitudes of doctors towards expectant mothers, have changed over the past 60 years. The collection explores how women responded to their experiences of childbirth through organisation and advocacy, highlighting the development of post-war women’s activism and women’s rights, the growth of the consumer voice, and notions of choice and control in maternity care.

We are delighted that these papers are now open and accessible for research, and excited about the research potential this will offer to a range of historians interested in women’s history and the social history of maternity and childbirth."

Nick Wilkie, Chief Executive of NCT, said: "This collection brings to life the history of NCT and of childbirth in the UK and we’re delighted to be able to share it in this way. It shows how our organisation has grown and evolved over the years, becoming the UK's largest charity for parents. For more than half a century we have worked to ensure all parents-to-be and new parents feel supported, informed and confident. We have done this through pioneering thought leadership, achieving important legislative and policy changes and continually listening to parents. As our 60th anniversary approaches we are continuing to develop as an organisation, always trying to improve the support we offer all mums and dads and campaigning on issues that matter most to parents."

Members of the Wellcome Library can request access to the archive for research from 28 September. A small number of images and two films produced by NCT are available online and the NCT catalogue can be searched on the Wellcome Library catalogue using the reference SA/NCT.Some sections of the archive are subject to closure or restriction periods to protect the identities of women and children whose experiences are recorded.