Laura Johnson and Stacey Collins
A row erupted today as midwife leaders accused the UK government of breaking promises to improve the care of women having babies.
Royal College of Midwives chief executive Cathy Warwick hit out at the college's annual conference in Manchester - calling for midwife numbers to be increased by 3,500.
She said: "The silence on this issue from the Government is deafening. When they were outside government they were promising much, now they are committing
to nothing. They say student placements will be protected but colleagues in higher education say differently.
"There is also no point in training new midwives if there are no jobs for them."
She added: "I am very concerned that the needs of pregnant women are greater than ever before, the birthrate remains high, yet we are still acutely short of midwives. The RCM is well aware of the pressures on public spending but midwives are already doing more for less.
"It now it looks like they will be asked to do even more with fewer resources and fewer staff."
Professor Warwick said Prime Minister David Cameron had pledged in January to increase midwife numbers by 3,000.
She was backed by the National Childbirth Trust, which said it was "disappointed" by lack of action to improve maternity care.
Chief executive Belinda Phipps said: "The pre-election promises, made by both parties, to increase numbers of midwives in England are yet to be realised. This is despite numerous studies showing the detrimental effects of a shortage of midwives and lack of investment in maternity services on mothers and their families."
But government sources claimed the birth-rate had stopped increasing - so the pledge was not needed. It is expected to fall to 660,000 this year compared with 673,000 in 2008.
A Conservative party spokesman said: "The commitment to 3,000 midwives made in Opposition was dependent on the birthrate increasing as it has done in the recent past. It was not in the coalition agreement because predictions now suggest the birthrate will be stable over the next few years.
"People can be absolutely clear that our commitment to meet the needs of expectant mothers remains, and we will continue to train new midwives to meet the demands arising from the births."
A spokesman for the department of health said health secretary Andrew Lansley said: "We are considering ways of helping improve midwife recruitment and retention, especially given the increased number and complexity of births in recent years.
"We will work with the RCM and others on the best ways to make sure we have an appropriately resourced and skilled workforce to match birth rates and patient need."