Midwives are being urged to vote in favour of taking industrial action over pay in a ballot launched on Friday.
The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) started its second ballot on industrial action in England and its first in Wales in its 142-year history.
The RCM, which represents most midwives and also maternity support workers in the UK, is calling on its members to vote in favour.
The RCM’s 30,000 eligible members working in the NHS in England and Wales will be asked whether they are prepared to strike and take other forms of industrial action. The postal ballot is due to close in mid-December.
The move comes after a consultation which saw RCM members overwhelmingly reject the Westminster and Welsh Governments’ 4% pay award.
Two-thirds of eligible members in England and more than eight out of 10 in Wales took part in the consultation, with three-quarters saying they wanted to be balloted on industrial action.
Dr Suzanne Tyler, of the RCM, said: “Midwives and maternity support workers (MSWs) have been pushed to the brink, with this latest pay award being the last straw for many.
“It is scandalous and shameful that, in one of the world’s richest countries, we have highly trained professionals having to use food banks to feed their families and think hard about whether they turn the heating on.
“The decision to take industrial action will not be one midwives and MSWs take lightly, but they clearly feel they have no other recourse than this.”
The RCM has reassured maternity staff and women and families using maternity services that midwives and MSWs will not take action that would put women or babies at risk.
“Our own members told us last year that more than half of midwives were thinking of leaving the NHS: now that thought is becoming reality.
“The Governments in Wales and Westminster must do far more to retain staff and bring others into the NHS, and making a meaningful pay offer and an urgent retention package is a good place to start. Investing in NHS pay is an investment in staff and an investment in better care for women, babies, and families.”
RCM members in Scotland have already voted to take industrial action.
The move follows an announcement by the Royal College of Nursing on Wednesday that its members have voted to strike over pay.
Health workers in other unions, including ambulance staff, physiotherapists and hospital porters and cleaners, are currently voting on whether to strike over pay.