Steering Group

Information on the Babies Born Better Steering Group Members

Marie-Clare Balaam

Marie-Clare currently works as a senior research assistant in the Midwifery department at the University of Central Lancashire, UK. Marie-Clare’s background is in History and Women’s Studies. She has worked as a lecturer and an academic and community based researcher. Her research interests are; migrant women’s experiences of maternity care and childbirth in the UK and Europe, social support, and historical and socio-cultural perspectives on women’s health particularly menopause. Her current research focuses on the experiences of asylum seeking and refugee women and social support for marginalised women.

Soo Downe

Soo spent 15 years working as a midwife in various clinical, research, and project development roles. In January 2000 she joined the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) in England, where she is now the Professor of Midwifery Studies, coordinator of the Research in Childbirth and Health (ReaCH) group and co-Director of the THRIVE Centre. Her main research focus is the nature of, and cultures around, normal birth. She is the editor of ‘Normal Birth, Evidence and Debate’ (2004, 2008), and co-editor (with Sheena Byrom) of ‘The Roar Behind the Silence’ and of ‘Squaring the Circle’. She is the founder and Chair of the International Normal Birth Research Conference Series which is now in its 19thyear.  Between 2010 and 2018 she was the principle investigator on two EU COST Actions related to childbirth, involving academics, policy makers, scientists, activists, and service users from 34 countries. The B3 survey was developed and extended through both COST Actions.

Soo is a Board of Directors  member of the International MotherBaby Childbirth Organisation,  a member of the Global Respectful Maternity Care Council of the White Ribbon Alliance, a member of the Steering Group for the recent Lancet Midwifery Series, and a co-author on papers in this and two other Lancet Series (Stillbirth, and Optimising Caesarean Section). With the UCLan ReaCH team, she has undertaken a range of reviews that have influenced World Health Organisation guidelines in maternity care, with a particular emphasis on integrating qualitative metasynthesis data into guideline development. She is currently a Cochrane EPOC editor.

Mechthild Gross

Mechthild has been a midwifery researcher for more than 30 years. After training as a qualified nurse and midwife, and a BSc and MSc in psychology at the Universities of Koblenz-Landau and Constance, Germany, Mechthild graduated from the University of Bremen with a PhD in 2001. In 2009, she submitted her post-doctoral thesis (Habilitation) at Hannover Medical School and became professor in 2015.

She founded the Midwifery Research and Education Unit at Hannover Medical School in 2001 and has been the head of the research group since then. Since 2009, Mechthild has been head of the European Master of Science in Midwifery programme at Hannover. In addition to supervising PhD’s, she supervised 36 master theses of students who conducted their MSc projects in Bangladesh, Belgium, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Iceland, Switzerland, Thailand, and the United Kingdom.

The main areas of research are onset of labour and its various symptoms, early labour, labour duration as a dependent process, attitudes of women and clinicians, interinstitutional variations of perinatal outcomes, oxytocin augmentation during labour, and health related outcomes during labour and birth.

Mechthild has conducted several multicentre-studies funded by the German Research Council (DFG), FP7, and H2020. Currently, she is the principal investigator of the German arm of the H2020 ALERT consortium (2020-2024), led by Prof. C. Hanson, Karolinska Stockholm. The aim is to develop and evaluate a multifaceted intervention to reduce in-facility perinatal mortality and morbidity through a multidisciplinary approach in Benin, Malawi, Tanzania and Uganda.

Mechthild was the vice chair and German representative on the Management Committee of the COST Action IS0907 Childbirth cultures, concerns and consequences, led by Prof. Soo Downe. She was the German representative on the Management Committee of the COST Action IS1405 (2014-18) Building Intrapartum Research Through Health (BIRTH), which was also led by Professor Soo Downe. She is the German representative on the Management Committee of the COST Action CA18211 (2019-2023) Perinatal Mental Health and Birth-Related Trauma, (DEVoTION).

Mechthild contributed to the Lancet Stillbirth Series, the WHO recommendations on intrapartum care, the recommendations on non-clinical interventions to reduce unnecessary caesarean section, and the German national health care aim “Around Childbirth”. She is a founding member of the International Early Labor Research Group and keeps her clinical commitment to midwifery once a week.  

Mechthild participated in the B3 survey since its beginning. The project was partly managed  between 2014-2018 by Mechthild and Marina Weckend who worked at that time at the Midwifery Research and Education Unit at Hannover Medical School. 

Lucy Frith

Lucy Frith is Reader in Bioethics and Social Science at the University of Manchester. She has a taught health care ethics to medical students and health care professionals for a number of years. Her research focuses on the social and ethical aspects of health-care decision-making, policy and regulation, with a particular interest in empirical ethics and socio-legal approaches. She has carried out research on pregnancy and childbirth; reproductive technologies (gamete and embryo donation); research ethics (clinical trials and public involvement and cross-cultural issues in consent); the organisation and funding of health care provision; and the use of evidence in practice and policy. She has held visiting fellowships at the Centre for Research in Arts, Social Science and Humanities (CRASSH) at the University of Cambridge and the Centre for Medical Ethics and Law at the University of Hong Kong. She is on the steering committee of BBB and is a member of the UK data team.


Twitter: @lucy_frith

Mario Santos

Mário J.D.S. Santos is a research assistant at the Instituto Universitário de Lisboa (ISCTE-IUL), in Lisbon, Portugal. He has nursing degree (2007), a MSc in health, medicine and society (2012) and a post-graduation in data analysis for the social sciences (2016). He is currently a PhD candidate in sociology, in the same university, and his research is focused on the networking and professionalisation processes of home birth professional actors in Portugal. He is member of the BBB Steering Committee and National Coordinator for Portugal.

Fatima Leon

Edwin van Teijlingen


Naseerah Akooji

Naseerah is a senior research assistant in the Lancashire Clinical Trials Unit at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), UK who has obtained a BSc (Hons) in Mathematics and an MSc in Statistics. Her research interests lie in the use of statistics in medical and healthcare research  and she is a member of the COST Action IS1405 after joining as an expert on the Babies Born Better survey. Since 2015 she has worked on the data management and analysis of the Babies Born Better survey as well as the management of the website and survey website. She is also on the UK team and works with other country coordinators on BBB data analysis.