England's healthcare regulator has told BBC News that maternity units currently have the poorest safety ratings of any hospital service it inspects.
BBC analysis of Care Quality Commission (CQC) records showed it deemed two-thirds (67%) of them not to be safe enough, up from 55% last autumn.
The "deterioration" follows efforts to improve NHS maternity care, and is blamed partly on a midwife shortage.
The Department for Heath and Social Care (DHSC) said £165m a year was being invested in boosting the maternity workforce, but said "we know there is more to do".
The BBC's analysis also revealed the proportion of maternity units with the poorest safety ranking of "inadequate" - meaning that there is a high risk of avoidable harm to mother or baby - has more than doubled from 7% to 15% since September 2022.
The CQC, which also inspects core services such as emergency care and critical care, said the situation was "unacceptable" and "disappointing".
"We've seen this deterioration, and action needs to happen now, so that women can have the assurance they need that they're going to get that high-quality care in any maternity setting across England," said Kate Terroni, the CQC's deputy chief executive.
The regulator has been conducting focused inspections because of concerns about maternity care. These findings are "the poorest they have been" since it started recording the data in this way in 2018, Ms Terroni said.
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Source: BBC News, 16 November 2023