It has been very disturbing to read of the two recently abandoned babies in Sydney, but even more worrying is to know that mothers can be discharged from our hospitals only 12 – 24 hours after giving birth. This puts both mother and baby at risk.
This prompted me to ask my friend, who is a Child and Family Health Nurse in Glebe, how the system that supports new mothers operates.
She stated that a new mother in a public hospital may be discharged between 12 hours and three days after birth, or five days after a Caesarean birth. Follow up is daily but brief, to cover five days after the birth and then a last check in two weeks time. Often problems occur after this period and, understandably, go unreported.
A mother for a second time onwards can be discharged after just 12–24 hours after birth with similar checks for only five days.
It would be very difficult to assess the mother’s competency to care for her baby so soon after birth, as it is unlikely she would have experienced many of the trying aspects of motherhood just yet: feeding problems, sleepless nights, crying, and the dawning realisation that the baby is a permanent responsibility for a very long time.
Hospital stays are more realistic in the private sector with mothers staying for three or four days after a natural birth and the same follow up.
In my own experience as a new mother 20 years ago, you were not discharged until the baby was feeding well and starting to regain the weight it lost after birth. The Child and Family Nurse was available to visit almost anytime during the week and was always on call for serious problems. To book an appointment with a Child and Family Nurse these days you may be waiting for up to two weeks.
Apparently many of these Child & Family Nurses will be on leave for three weeks over the Christmas period, leaving many new mothers even further away from help over the coming month.
When a mother experiences 24 hours a day with a newborn, is exhausted and doesn’t have childcare experience, she needs time to be assessed, educated and supported.
It’s not surprising these circumstances can trigger unfortunate situations we’d rather avoid but, really, who is to blame?