Mothering not always natural

Deborah Coddington  is right to be concerned about the lack of care new mothers and their babies are getting from our health system.

Current policy concerning mothers and babies is to get them out of the hospital as soon as possible, regardless of how they are coping.

I blame the feminists who, in declaring quite rightly most deliveries are straightforward and mothers are not ill, went overboard in their quest for minimising hospital care (especially if male obstetricians or general practitioners were in charge of the birth) and made mothers feel pressured to get off the delivery trolley, pick up their blinking newborns and sail home pretending they could cope.

When our children were born 23, 21 and 19 years ago it was usual for women to have 5 days in hospital following a normal delivery and up to 10 days after a caesarean.

Now Ministry of Health policy stipulates that the Lead Maternity Carer will determine when mother and baby are clinically ready to be discharged; and that this is usually within 48 hours of the birth at least a day before breast milk comes in.


The Ministry’s list of reasons for delaying discharge includes feeding problems, so in theory mothers and their babies are able to stay until breast feeding is properly established. But this isn’t what happens in practice: women are often discharged within hours of birth and some maternity centres even offer incentives such as free napkins to encourage early discharge.


 Some women are happy to get home as soon as possible after delivery and of course should be free to do so; others may be unable, or choose not to breast feed. But many wish to feed their babies themselves and some of these need the immediate assistance which is available 24 hours a day in maternity centres to do so.


Without that help there is an increased risk babies will fail to thrive and mothers will develop mastitis or opt for bottle feeding in desperation.


I haven’t found any research into the link between feeding problems and our appalling record for violence; but an unhappy baby and the unexpected expense of formula will put strain on a family.


A birth blip has put pressure on maternity services and even without that it isn’t sensible to tie up tertiary and secondary hospital beds with well women. It may be better to establish mother care units but however it is done we need facilities that ensure 24-hour, on the spot assistance and advice is available from lactation specialists until breast feeding is established.

4 Responses to Mothering not always natural

  1. JC says:


    When our first baby was born in 1970, she stayed with Mum in hospital for 11 days. Subsequent arrivals stayed in 8 days. In the 60s, it was up to a 14 day stay.

    The reason(s) were simple enough.. the medical people wanted a good start to the new lives and the time was spent giving the mothers a good rest, establishing routines, getting the baby “hooked up”, sorting problems and issues and training the new parents. None of that requirement has changed.. in fact those having the most babies now are the least prepared for the role because of poorer education and home facilities and support.

    You could say that the older method was along the Albert Schweitzer Africa principle (We’ll cure ’em whether they like it or not), quite dogmatic and not terribly impressed with protestations of competence.

    Another factor not mentioned is that the longer stay and attention paid actually set the priorities for a young family.. it impressed how important babies were and established the principle of putting baby first.



  2. Deborah says:

    I think Deborah Coddington is being rather silly blaming it on ‘teh feminists’. A handy little punching bag whenever she wants one. The problem is far more likely to be located in the underfunding of maternity and pregnancy care. And in fact, the solution you advocate i.e. increased choice for women, is very feminist.

    I’ve written about this from time to time too.


  3. homepaddock says:

    Deborah: You are right that maternity & pregnancy care are underfunded.

    I agree that choice is good too – but pressure isn’t so I also concede some ground to Deborah C. The radical end of the feminist spectrum is partly responsible for the idea that because birth is a natural process doctors, especially men, aren’t needed and that women are better at home than in maternity units.

    Birth is a natural process but so too is death and there is a sad testimony to the number of births that went wrong in any old graveyard.


  4. I too am blaming lack of funding, shortage of beds and understaffing – at least in australia.
    First time around it was the Child and Maternal Health system that got me through, they were wonderful with feeding, sleeping and health advice and just as well as after a 3 day hospital day I was not prepared at all!

    In these times of less community help, strangers for neighbours, distant families, single parents, young mothers etc we need more support not less for our new mothers


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