Harrogate mums launch company to tackle taboos on childbirth

My Expert Midwife co-founders, Harrogate mums Lesley Gilchrist, left, Claire Charlton, right.
My Expert Midwife co-founders, Harrogate mums Lesley Gilchrist, left, Claire Charlton, right.

Two Harrogate friends have turned their own experiences of the difficulties of childbirth into a new company dedicated to helping mums-to-be and new mums.

Claire Charlton and Lesley Gilchrist founded the independent business after the former got in touch with the latter in 2013 after enduring a traumatic labour with her first child.

A Harrogate-based charity worker, Claire found herself bonding with Lesley, a professional midwife who frequently work at Harrogate Hospital after hearing that she, too, had had imilar experiences

Now their shared passion to do something to improve the situation for women has led to the launch of My Expert Midwife.

New to the world of business, the two friends only set up their new venture after researching how other Harrogate mothers felt.

Lesley said: “We wanted to make certain there was a genuine demand for our products.

“We did a lot of consumer research, not just woman nationally. The study included women from Harrogate who had recently delivered their babies and were in tears in childbirth.

“We’re very grateful to the amazing ladies of Harrogate who have shared their personal stories with us on the difficulties they have experienced through pregnancy and childbirth.”

Claire, 38, moved to Harrogate at the age of two in 1981 when her father started his own interior design company on Station Parade called simply Stephen Neall.

After studying performing arts and ‘treading the boards’ for a few years, she joined the family business in 2003 as showroom manager.

And that might have been that had not the experience with her and her husband Brian’s first child Alfie, who is now eight, been such a difficult one.

She didn’t feel in control at all and felt she lacked birthing options.

Claire said: “I had 48 hours of build-up and contractions. My overwhelming memory of the birth and post birth was that I didn’t have that rush of love that ‘everyone’ else feels.

“I didn’t understand that that was perfectly ok and very normal.”

Inspired to get the best out of her second pregnancy and to research the best techniques for better bonding with a new baby, Claire underwent a complete change of direction.

As well as volunteering on a weekly basis with the Harrogate Mental Health Project and fundraising for Harrogate-based charity Open Arms Malawi, she decided to train in baby massage along with pregnancy and holistic massage.

She also sought out the help of Lesley, who appeared in series three and four of Channel 4’s One Born Every Minute.

As well as being a highly-qualified and experienced midwife and registered nurse, Lesley had also gone through difficult births herself.

Lesley, who has said two children; Francesca ‘frankie’ Lister, nine, and Ruairidh ‘Ru’ Lister, six, said: “I gave birth to my daughter via forceps and found this incredibly painful afterwards. It was something I wasn’t really prepared for.

“My abiding memory of my recovery from birth was the lack of products available to assist with this, and those that were available weren’t practical or effective.”

As a keen participant in adventurous sports such as water rafting and racing huskies for various charities, Claire is no stranger to risk in her life.

But she and Lesley believe the range of products they offer via My Expert Midwife will make a diference to women’s lives.

Lesley said: “We want our products to offer quality ingredients and minimal packaging.

“But we also want to help educate women, who can be shocked at the after effects of labour, of the reality and side effects of being pregnant and giving birth.

“It’s not spoken about publically in any detail and we want to break that taboo.”

The two straight-talking mums say all My Expert Midwife products have been developed to solve problems that are an unavoidable occurrence in pregnancy, childbirth and beyond.

Claire said: "Both NHS and private providers will share similar statistics for tear rates and episiotomies which 80-90% of women will experience.

"Nipple balm is a universal requirement for breastfeeding – what’s different about our No Harm Nipple Balm is that is based on Lesley's first-hand knowledge gained over working with new mums over many years.

"This allowed her to identify subtle adjustments to create a solution that’s easy to application and hygienic for nursing mums to use.

"The feedback from the (unique/qualitative) research we commissioned, highlighted a gap in the market and a clear need for products, like My Expert Midwife, which support womens’ pre and post natal recovery."

The company's founders are keen that My Expert Midwife is complementary to NHS care.

A case of e-commerce at the moment, the business’s HQ and distribution centre is located in Harrogate.

They two friends aim to make their new range of products available in the larger ‘bricks and mortar’ retailers with specialist maternity sections.

For any reader who is wondering what the two mums new business is offering, the initial range consists of Spritz for Bits, No Harm Nipple Balm, Fantastic Skin Elastic and Peri Prep Your Bits.