When my daughter was born almost a year ago, she was a little bit poorly and we had a five-night stay in hospital before being allowed home just in time for Christmas.
And over the following months of talking about birth to anyone who would listen that inevitably follows having a baby, I noticed the same observations and complaints about time spent in hospital came up again and again amongst the women I know. These weren’t, on the whole, about the medical care - we mostly felt that our immediate needs, the ones about life and death and sickness and health were met, but they were simple measures that could have made the lives of the new mums easier in those first few days when you are exhausted and vulnerable.
I’ve been blogging about this and so far, in a series that is continuing, I’ve come up with six easy ways to improve postnatal care on the ward:
- Be consistent - in all aspects of caring for a newborn, but particularly breastfeeding, advice changes every time a shift changes. Some staff tell you to try each breast, some to try one breast, some to express, some to limit time on each breast, some to let the baby suckle as long as they like etc. Probably any one of these, followed for a while, would establish feeding, but the lack of consistency means often nothing is given a chance.
- A debrief for all mums before leaving hospital - I know we can request a debrief with a midwife in the days, weeks or months following birth, but to have one offered as a matter of course would be the ideal time to fill women in on what happened to them and why, what drugs they may be on, what recovery looks like (and when to worry) and to have a chance to discuss any concerns about their baby. Perhaps I was filled in through a drip of information when drug- hazed and sleep-deprived, but none of it went in. A formal debrief before going home would have given me a chance to ask all of my questions.
- Allow partners 24-hour access - if our partners could stay with us throughout the night, or visit any time, then they would be able to help with the baby while we slept so as to regain much needed strength. I have no doubt this would lessen the number of women who spend their nights in hospital sobbing silently, counting the minutes until visiting starts again.
- Help us buy the basics - you will most likely have no idea how many nappies or balls of cotton wool you will need for your baby, or how many maternity pads you will fill or whether you will need nipple cream. A small on-ward shop or trolley would solve this easily.
- Change the sheets - the days post-birth are particularly yukky. You bleed - lots. You may be a bit leaky when it comes to urine. Your breasts produce liquid, not necessarily to order but nearly always when you have found a dry patch to lay on. The baby poos and wees, also not to order, and as you don’t yet know how to do a nappy properly, this also leaks. Current policy seems to be not to wash the baby post birth, but to let the fluids that cover it when it is born come off naturally over the next few days, so this too gets everywhere. Then there’s sick. And of course spillages of food and drink that come from trying to grab a mouthful whenever you can while juggling your slippery newborn. Please, bear this is mind and change the sheets often, at least once a day, preferably more.
- Don’t call me mum - in any other ward you would have our name by our bed and call us that. Please don’t relegate us to being known only in relation to our newborn. There is one person in the world allowed to call me mum - I gave birth to her. This may be small fry to you but treat us as individuals and we’ll feel as if the plans for our care and the care of our babies are individualised too.
Ellie Levenson is a freelance journalist, author of Fifty Campaigns to Shout About and blogs at goodynuffmum.blogspot.com