Taking part in a clinical trial for women at various stages of their pregnancy gave vital and welcome relief for a new mother in Carshalton this year.

Leianne Wickham, 34, from Carshalton, was one of a number of participants in the Pregnancy Circles trial at Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust.

She gave birth to her third child, Felicity, at St Helier Hospital in January, just weeks before the advent of the coronavirus pandemic in the UK and the coming of the first lockdown.

The REACH Pregnancy Circles programme is a National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) portfolio study supported by the NIHR Clinical Research Network South London.

The groups brought together a group of up to 12 women at similar stages in their pregnancy for clinical care, information sharing and/or social support.

Researchers hope the results of this and other programmes they are staging like it will lead to healthier babies and mothers.

Leianne said she has made friends for life as a result of taking part in the trial:

"I can’t fault the care I received from Epsom and St Helier’s maternity team and from the midwives involved in this research. All of the mums became really close friends during our pregnancies and we are still ever so grateful for the wonderful care that we received from the trust," she said.

"I would definitely consider taking part in another research study if I was to have another baby, and other pregnant women should consider taking part in clinical trials as knowledge is power."

Alongside the social side of connection with other expectant and new mums, women like Leianne who took part were taught in classes to check their own blood pressure and urine to spot potential signs of pre-eclampsia, which can cause fatal high blood pressure both during and after pregnancy.

Epsom Hospital Consultant Midwife Louise Emmett, a principal investigator on the Pregnancy Circles trial, said: “We want to engage and empower women through this trial by putting them in control of their care, providing peer support and better communication, with the aim of improving the overall health and wellbeing of our mums to be.

“I’m proud that we have been able to help Leianne, little Felicity and her partner Daniel.

"I hope the results of this study will go on to deliver benefits for many more women."

Indeed, the social benefits were one of the things Leianne highlighted in particular in the context of caring for a new baby amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"The mums’ WhatsApp group provided me with a lifeline during lockdown, which was a really scary time," she said.

My partner, Daniel, and I only left our home to collect food as we were worried about passing the virus onto Felicity.

"However, the support I received from the other mums gave me the confidence and reassurance I needed to get through what has been a really difficult period of my life.

“We are one supportive team. If anyone has a question, the other mums will pitch in to help one another through our WhatsApp group.

"We use the messaging platform to share baby milestone videos and pictures to keep one another updated on the progress of our little ones," she added.

The trial was led by the University of East London. For more information, click here.