When you come out of hospital with your brand new baby it’s an overwhelming time. Birth announcements, introducing your newest family member to the rest of your family, on top of getting to grips with life as a new parent. It’s no wonder that in the midst of all of that that what you don’t hear people talking about is their experience of postnatal care – whether you had a good or bad experience, there are far more pressing things to be getting on with, like feeding your new arrival. But your experience after the birth itself can stay with you a long time and have a huge impact on those early days as a parent. When it comes to my own experiences of postnatal care, they couldn’t be more different, so when I heard about Mumsnet’s campaign for #BetterPostnatalCare I wanted to share my stories.
First time around – 2014
First time around was an experience that I wanted to forget pretty quickly. It’s not something that I’ve really talked about to friends or family, but I can still remember the shock of it all. I gave birth on a typical labour ward and it was a pretty good birth experience – a standard delivery, nice and quick, and no real complications. I’d felt supported and cared for throughout and our midwives were lovely. However, soon after the birth things started to go downhill. The ward was very busy, and our midwife very apologetically informed us that we would need to move to the postnatal ward. This was just an hour after I’d given birth to my baby. Placenta delivered, stitches done, tea and toast eaten, but that was it. No time for a shower, no time for a first feed, or to just revel in being a brand new little family. I was wheeled down to the ward in a wheelchair and we were shown to a bed before the bombshell was dropped that my husband would have to leave as it wasn’t visiting hours. The hospital I was in operated very strict visiting times – only a few hours in the day for any visitors, a few more for partner and siblings only, but certain hours of the day, as well as overnight, where visitors weren’t allowed at all.
I have never felt so lonely in my life. I was still on a high from all the adrenaline, but everything felt so surreal. I’d given birth just an hour ago and now I was left alone to look after this tiny little being who was completely dependent on me. I had no idea of how the ward worked – no clue where the toilets or showers were, no clue where to put dirty nappies, no idea how to get food or drink. I’d been told not to leave my baby alone so I was too scared to go and have a shower – I just waited until my husband finally arrived back a few hours later. When my baby cried I tried my best to feed him every time but just couldn’t get him to latch on. I’d press my buzzer for someone to help and eventually someone would come, grab my boob and thrust it in my son’s mouth and leave, leaving me none the wiser as to how I was supposed to accomplish this on my own. I felt like whenever I buzzed I was being a nuisance – I had no idea whether the midwives were there to help with feeding or not, but as I just couldn’t get him to latch myself I had no alternative but to buzz.
Food eventually appeared and I was shocked to receive a plate of chicken curry with two bits of chicken in a watery sauce. The rest of the meals weren’t much better – I was so grateful I’d packed some snacks in my hospital bag!
I’d given birth at 7.56am, so I fully expected to stay in hospital for the first night. But the second day dragged on and by 4pm it started to look like we wouldn’t be going home that day either, as we were told that no-one had seen me breastfeeding without their help. In fact, by that point they had, but it emerged that those midwives had been agency workers who hadn’t made a note of it. It was at that point I had a bit of a breakdown. The prospect of staying on the ward for another night was one that I just couldn’t handle – I’d not slept in 72 hours by this point and I was exhausted, emotional and verging on delirious. I can understand that staff want to see you leaving feeding your baby confidently, but I think one more night wouldn’t have achieved that for us – I needed to get out of that environment and back home where I felt comfortable. Luckily my husband totally got this and returned with a wonderful midwife in tow, who watched me feed, and gave us lots of really helpful advice, before arranging our discharge.
Our experience post discharge wasn’t smooth either. We were expecting a visit from a midwife the day after we arrived home, but this never happened. On ringing the next day we were told it had slipped through the net, but to expect someone that day, however no-one turned up then either. The next day we had a call to say that the midwife hadn’t been able to find our house, which I found baffling as we live on a normal road and no-one has ever had any problems before! We did finally have a midwife turn up on that day though, which was a relief!
I don’t blame the NHS staff for my experience at all – it was clear how busy and understaffed they are. But I’d had a very smooth birth experience, with no complications or difficult recovery to deal with, and even I found it completely overwhelming. I dread to think what it can be like to go through that experience if you’ve had a difficult birth, or a c-section. To be honest, I had started to believe that that was just the experience that everyone had and that it was just something you had to deal with. But my second experience was so different that it’s really opened my eyes to how good things can be.
Second time around – 2017
My more recent experience of postnatal care couldn’t have been more different from the first. My second birth experience (which you can read here) was fabulous, but it was the after-care that has made such a huge difference in how easy I’ve found things in the early days. My birth took place in the hospital’s new midwife led birth centre, and I was supported through it by two midwives. I had a large room, with an en-suite and birthing pool, and once we were ready, the midwives simply pulled down a double bed from the wall and made it up for us to use. Rather than having to trek to the communal showers, I was able to have a shower, wash my hair and just feel generally refreshed, without having to worry about my baby, who was being given his vitamin K injection and being dressed by my husband while this was going on. My midwives were so lovely, and left me to it, but also kept checking on me to make sure I felt ok (and wasn’t going to pass out in the shower!). The bathroom was lovely and clean, and I felt like the shower was a genuinely refreshing experience, rather than worrying about what bodily fluids I was standing in.
Once we were settled, we were left just the three of us which was lovely, but we were also told where we could find food. There was a fridge full of sandwiches and ready meals, as well as tea and coffee making facilities, and we were told we were welcome to order takeaway if we wanted (we were very tempted to go for a Dominos but eventually decided a sandwich from the fridge was fine!). It really was a lovely place for us to get to know each other, and felt like staying in a hotel rather than a hospital.
The support I had with getting breastfeeding started this time was great. We were helped with the first feed, and after that we were told to use the buzzer every time he seemed hungry and they would come to help. Ben was very mucousy at first, and was reluctant to feed, so for that reason, although I’d been really keen to go home as soon as possible, we made the decision to stay overnight so that we had help on hand with the feeding. Going home asap had been the only thing that I’d specified in my birth plan, as I’d hated our stay first time around. But this time was totally different. I had my husband there with me, we had privacy, and I felt that the staff had time to support us. As the staff changed over for the night shift, our ‘old’ staff popped in to say goodbye and to introduce us to the new midwives which I thought was lovely. We sat on the bed eating sandwiches for our dinner while our baby slept in his little crib at the end of our bed, and I swear, a cheese sandwich has never tasted so good. I even managed to get some sleep during the night, which meant that I left the hospital feeling happy and rested, rather than a walking zombie.
The improvement in after-care didn’t end when we left the hospital either. The support I’ve had this time around from the community midwives and the feeding support team has been nothing short of wonderful. We were informed on our discharge from hospital that Ben had a minor tongue tie – too minor for them to consider doing anything about and it shouldn’t cause us any problems. But after a couple of days breastfeeding was agonising, my nipples were bleeding and sore, and we were really struggling to get a good latch still. When I brought this up with the community midwives when they visited on Day 3, they immediately rang their infant feeding team and got me an appointment that afternoon. When Ben was looked at, they found that he had a severe posterior tongue tie, at 80%, that meant feeding was very difficult. They were able to snip it there and then, which although it was a bit of a shock for us at the time, was able to make such a huge difference to our feeding. Although obviously the severity of the tongue tie wasn’t picked up at first, it was the fact that it was flagged up that gave me the push to ask the right questions later on and to get it sorted so quickly.
The midwives also arranged for their feeding specialist to visit us at home the next day. She was wonderful – completely non-judgemental about breastfeeding vs. formula, and hugely helpful with her advice. We continued to struggle with breastfeeding, and over the course of the next two weeks she visited us at home a further two times, as well as calling to check in on how we were doing. There were also breastfeeding clinics set up for you to drop in for advice – pretty much one on each day of the week in a slightly different area of the county. I got some great tips on achieving a better latch, as well as a lovely cup of tea and cake! When it comes to breastfeeding, I think support is the most important thing for people, so I was really impressed with this and I’m certain that we wouldn’t be breastfeeding now had that not been in place.
My two experiences of postnatal care really couldn’t have been more different. In one sense we were lucky as the birth centre second time around was very quiet, so we were able to stay in the room we’d been in initially and my husband was able to stay overnight, which wouldn’t have been the case on the ward. I really think this was the most crucial thing for me in how I felt about everything – having your partner there to support you at a time when you’re feeling really vulnerable, both physically and emotionally, is such a huge factor. In fact, I think I needed my husband less the second time around, as I felt so much more comfortable with the midwives and the surroundings, but when you’re feeling insecure and unsupported, you want someone there to stand up for you and be your advocate. I understand that many women want privacy at that time and wouldn’t be comfortable with having other women’s partners staying on the ward, but equally, many women desperately want their partners there, to support them, and to stand up for them at a time when they’re feeling vulnerable.
You can read more about Mumsnet’s Campaign for #BetterPostnatalCare here. I’d love to hear your thoughts on postnatal care and your own experiences – please do leave me a comment.