An increase in the number of midwives and obstetricians is of "paramount importance", medical experts said today.
A joint report from a number of royal colleges says essential minimum staffing levels are necessary to ensure support and safer care is given to women in labour and their babies.
It calls for women in labour to receive one-to-one care from a midwife and for all women requiring conduction or general anaesthetic to be seen and assessed by an anaesthetist before an elective procedure.
Earlier this year the Department of Health launched a new maternity strategy to improve choice in childbirth and access to midwives, saying it wanted to "deliver 'gold standard' maternity services for women" and set out a timetable to achieve this by the end of 2009.
As well as the minimum 40 hours of consultant obstetrician presence on the ward, the royal colleges' report says the consultant should conduct a physical ward round every evening and at least twice a day during Saturdays, Sundays and bank holidays.
During these rounds the consultant must review all midwifery-led cases on referral.
Safer Childbirth: Minimum Standards for the Organisation and Delivery of Care in Labour also states that a healthcare professional - midwife, neonatal nurse, advanced neonatal practitioner or paediatrician - trained in neonatal life support must be immediately available for all births, in any setting.
Maggie Elliott, president of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), said: "Women and their babies sit at the heart of these recommendations, which address many of the issues affecting the delivery of safe, quality care wherever women give birth.
"Midwives will welcome the focus on direct communication, the need for better staffing levels and a commitment to respectful and equitable relationships between all members of the maternity care team. This can only result in a better birth experience for women, their babies and families."
The Safer Childbirth report was prepared jointly by the Royal Colleges of Anaesthetists (RCOA), Midwives (RCM), Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), and Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH).