Mothers are being separated from their newborn babies and denied the chance to have skin to skin contact after birth.
As reported in ABC News online, national advocacy group, the Maternity Consumer Network, says it has been contacted by increasing numbers of women who say they’ve been separated from their newborns after birth.
MCN’s director, Alecia Staines, was quoted as saying: “In the last 12 months, it’s been one of the top five things that we’ve been contacted about”.
Mothers Denied Skin To Skin Contact After Birth
Immediate skin to skin and early breastfeeding is recommended by leading health organisations around the world.
There are many important benefits for mothers and babies, including temperature regulation and breastfeeding success.
You can read more about the positives of skin to skin contact in 7 Huge Benefits of An Undisturbed First Hour After Birth.
The World Health Organization recommends early and uninterrupted skin to skin, to promote breastfeeding within the first hour after birth, and to increase the likelihood of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life.
In 1990 WHO and UNICEF developed the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI), which aims to protect, promote and support breastfeeding.
The BFHI has been introduced into 134 countries, including Australia, with the aim of creating health care environments where breastfeeding is the norm, and where practices that promote breastfeeding are followed.
To be accredited as ‘Baby Friendly’, hospitals must implement ‘Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding’.
Step 4 says: Facilitate immediate and uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact and support mothers to initiate breastfeeding as soon as possible after birth.
There are currently just under 80 Baby Friendly accredited hospitals in Australia. This is just under 25% of the 330 hospitals offering maternity services in the country.
Many hospitals don’t implement the Baby Friendly standards.
A study that looked at the possible problems with implementing the BFHI accreditation in hospitals found hospital staff’s understanding and personal views were often not aligned with the aims of, and the evidence supporting, the BFHI.
Ms Staines reportedly said new mothers who asked why they weren’t having skin to skin with their babies were told a lack of theatre staff was the main reason.
This is despite evidence to show separating newborns from their mothers causes significant stress in the babies.
New Mothers Struggle With Trauma After Separation
Jen Shipston, a mother of three, recalls her intense distress after being separated from her second baby after his birth.
“We were separated straight after birth, despite his APGARS being 9 and 9 and without any skin to skin. He was taken to special care and after almost two hours of my begging to see him, they finally brought him back to me”.
Jen was told she was separated from her baby because his respiratory rate was high, despite all his other vital signs being fine.
“I was very upset at the time, as they didn’t even give me a chance to do skin to skin to see if his respiratory rate settled… Everything else with him was really good and it didn’t seem to be an emergency, yet they didn’t even let me briefly hold him before taking him away”.
Jen was further distressed when care providers seemed to show no concern or remorse about her experience.
“I felt like nobody cared or listened to me. One nurse even said to my husband when he said, “But Jen hasn’t even held him”, that it wasn’t important. Another midwife said, in a postnatal appointment when I was upset about it, that it ‘wasn’t that long’ and I should just be grateful that he’s healthy. It completely minimised the importance of those very first moments that we had lost forever”.
Although Jen’s birth was fairly straightforward, the separation afterwards has had short and long term impacts on both her and her second child. Breastfeeding wasn’t too challenging, but it wasn’t easy to bond with her baby. She spent the first six months of her son’s life feeling traumatised and unable to enjoy her baby.
“I still wonder if the separation after his birth has played a role in our relationship, which doesn’t seem to come as easily as my relationship with my two girls”.
Jen says she has carried a lot of guilt about whether she could have done anything differently.
Ultimately she believes her care providers weren’t interested in her baby’s needs, or hers, and it has done a great deal of harm. She chose to birth her next baby at home. She also supports many families as a doula, and countless other families as a birth photographer.
Hospitals Improving Skin To Skin Policies
In New South Wales, certain hospitals are in the process of implementing a new policy regarding skin to skin in public hospitals.
Dr Henry Murray, Director of Maternity and Gynaecology at John Hunter Hospital, said the hospitals were considering a dedicated operating theatre so staff would be able to look after mothers and babies at the same time, ensuring they have skin to skin contact. He is reported as saying there are also plans to have dedicated midwives to look after mothers when their babies are born.
As a birth educator and doula, I’ve heard more than my fair share of stories from women who have experienced separation from their babies immediately after birth. Many women were told it was due to staffing probelms, particularly following a c-section when a mother is in recovery. Because a midwife must also be present, babies are generally not able to be with their mothers unless in a dedicated maternity recovery area.
What do you think? Are too many mothers and babies missing out on these critical moments following birth because of policies which could be changed for the better?