Your new bundle of joy is here!
You’ve gone through the life-changing experience of birth, and now you just want to snuggle up with your baby and catch some sleep at some point.
But there’s one hitch – how long do you stay in hospital?
How Soon After Birth Should Women Go Home?
New parents are often very keen to leave hospital with their new baby and be in more familiar (and quiet) surroundings at home.
Other parents like the support and ease of being in hospital, without having to organise meals and clean the house for visitors.
Is there such a thing as leaving too early or staying too long?
What’s The Average Hospital Stay?
Researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine compiled data from 92 different countries on the length of time women stayed in hospital after birth.
The research revealed a huge variation in the time mothers stay in hospital – ranging from half a day in Egypt to almost 6.5 days in Ukraine.
In the UK the average length of stay for new mothers is 12 hours; many women are discharged after only 6 hours.
In Australia the average stay after birth is 3 days for public hospitals and 5 days for private. Yet recent media reports show Australian mothers are feeling pressured to leave hospital as early as 4 hours after giving birth.
The Australian Medical Association has criticised this practice, and seems to believe it’s only in hospital that mothers learn the skills and get the support they need for the transition to parenthood.
So When’s The Best Time To Leave Hospital?
The problem with asking when is the best time to leave hospital after birth is this: it ignores the more important question – who will look after mama when she gets home?
In many countries worldwide, the ‘babymoon’ or postnatal month after birth is a given. It’s the time for a new mother to rest and recuperate, as well as bond with and learn to care for her baby in the first month after birth.
You can read more about this in our article Why You Should Have A Post-Natal Month After The Birth
The World Health Organization states the first month after birth is the most critical stage of life for mothers and babies. The majority of maternal and infant deaths occur in this time frame.
Yet in many high-income countries, such as Australia, the UK, and the US, most new mothers are lucky if their partners can spend 2 weeks at home before returning to work. Single mothers and those without family or friends close by might find themselves trying to cope without any support.
Why Is This Important?
In many countries, the focus is on encouraging women to give birth in hospital rather than at home. Afterwards, in most cases, hospitals provide little or no postnatal support, and new mothers are left to sink or swim, and manage as best they can.
Breastfeeding rates also decrease in the first month after birth, leading to the conclusion many women struggle at home and don’t have access to, can’t afford, or aren’t even aware of any support to resolve problems.
Suicide has become one of the leading causes of death in women who have recently given birth. A report from the UK found many women who died by suicide didn’t receive the care they needed, despite clear indications they were suffering from mental health issues. About half of the women in the report had a history of depression, but their care providers hadn’t asked them about it.
Although suicides are rare, at least 15% of women will experience postnatal depression (PND) in the first year after giving birth. The cost of PND is high – for families, and economically.
How Can We Get It Right?
When Australian women give birth at home with independent midwives, they receive about 6 weeks of postnatal support. These appointments are eligible for Medicare rebates. Other countries offer similar support from independent or private practice midwives.
This level of postnatal support provides women with the opportunity to talk about their birth experiences, resolve breastfeeding difficulties, and discuss any health concerns. The midwives are also able to advise new mothers to rest and recuperate as much as possible.
Support helps a woman feel confident in her new role as a mother. It also establishes a link to professional help if medical issues, such as postnatal depression, arise.
Postnatal doulas are another source of support after birth. Doulas offer support in many ways, including cooking nutritious meals, doing domestic chores, and helping mothers with the challenges of early parenthood.
Hannah Dahlen, professor of midwifery at the University of Western Sydney, believes keeping women in hospital longer is not the answer.
“As long as women get postnatal follow-up at home, then home is the best place for them to be, because their risk of infection is so much lower at home, and they don’t have to listen to the noise of the hospital and have people coming in and out of the hospital room, sometimes offering different advice”, she says.
“It’s not about going home as soon as possible being good or bad, it’s about ensuring women have the best ongoing support once they do get home. That’s where society fails”.
What’s Best For Me?
Ultimately you should decide for yourself whether to go home early or choose to stay.
Just because you have an uncomplicated normal birth doesn’t automatically mean you don’t need support afterwards. Check with your hospital or local council about available support services in your area.
When you are pregnant, it pays to think ahead about what support you will have after the birth. This will help you decide whether or not an early discharge from hospital is right for you.
Pros And Cons Of Early Discharge
- Being at home with your own things
- No disruptions from staff and other patients
- Having visitors whenever, and for as long as, you like
- Reduced infection risk for your baby
- Avoiding pressure to have unwanted tests or procedures.
- Feeling more isolated without help from staff
- Breastfeeding issues might compound
- Risk of moving around too much, with increased risk of postnatal problems
- Problems arising with baby might not be noticed as quickly.
Pros And Cons Of Staying In Hospital
- Complete rest in bed
- Meals are prepared; no cleaning up
- Easy access to support from midwives for baby care and breastfeeding.
- Hospitals can be noisy; you might not get much-needed sleep
- Your partner might not be able to room in with you
- Possible conflicting advice from different staff
- Potential pressure to have tests or procedures you don’t wish to have.