Labour would give pregnant women legal right to home births, dads right to stay overnight in hospital after birth

// 25 March 2010

Stork carrying a baby in a blanketI’m a bit late to this one, but the government has announced plans to give women the legal right to choose where they give birth, and wants to overhaul maternity wards so that fathers can stay overnight rather than leaving their partner and child on their own after the birth. This sounds good, but the measures would be introduced ‘in the next parliament’, so are presumably dependent on Labour winning the election. The Guardian reckons this is a move to attract middle class voters, but quite why working class parents wouldn’t be interested in a home birth or having the father stay overnight I’m not sure – is the classist implication that working class dads won’t be around and working class mums are too stupid to want to make their own birth choices?

I’d be interested to know how Labour intend to fund changes to maternity wards and attract, train and support sufficient numbers of midwives to enable all the women who want to have home births to do so. And will the female partners of mothers or male partners who are not the child’s father be allowed to stay overnight to support the mother?

What do parents think of having fathers on the wards? I’m sure I personally would like to have my partner there, but perhaps some women might feel uncomfortable having male strangers sleeping nearby. I can’t imagine we’ll all be getting private rooms on the NHS!

Image by LaBellaVida, shared under a Creative Commons License.

Comments From You

Claire // Posted 25 March 2010 at 11:56 am

I think the idea of having men adding to nurses’ workloads, causing noise and invading other women’s privacy when there is very little of it anyway on already over-crowded wards when they’re not ill is ridiculous. If a woman needs an overnight stay after giving birth (which many do not) far better that she is left in the care of professionals than have disruption surrounding her.

Even if this might work for first births what about women with other children at home?

This strikes me as another what about da menz thing that has gone too far.

Jane // Posted 25 March 2010 at 12:07 pm

I’m with Claire on this one. While the idea of having your partner stay overnight is a nice idea, in practice it will mean loads of extra work for medical staff. When I had my baby in hospital (UCH – they were brilliant) a woman who had recently given birth was wheeled into my room along with her partner who proceeded to munch his way through a vile smelling burger and then moaned about how tired he was before falling asleep with his feet on his girlfriend’s bed and snoring like a adenoidal walrus. Really ‘restful’.

Becky // Posted 25 March 2010 at 12:34 pm

Allowing someone to stay in to support a new mother on the ward isn’t a bad idea in theory, but it would be nice if it wasn’t always centred around the mothers who have a male partner present at the birth. Throughout antenatal classes and my stay in hospital constant references were made to ‘the father’ which is pretty alienating, not to say irritating, if you happen to be doing it all alone (or with a form of support which doesn’t include the baby’s biological father.) I’m hoping that they don’t mean that those without a father present don’t deserve extra support from someone they know and trust, but I’m not sure I’d put money on it!

Soupy // Posted 25 March 2010 at 12:39 pm

Claire, I don’t why the fact that it wouldn’t work for some women – you rightly point to those with other children at home – means it shouldn’t be available for those who would benefit from it. I think a lot of women would welcome the support and comfort of having their partner (or another friend/relative) there, and being allowed to stay after the birth could help the partner to bond with the baby as well.

Space is a definite issue though, otherwise you end up with tales like Jane’s. (He sounds like a lovely man… :S)

nick // Posted 25 March 2010 at 12:41 pm

my wife will be giving birth in a few months ….would I want to stay in the hospital with them after the birth ?

only if there was something medically wrong with either mother or baby….

if all healthy then I’ll probably let them rest ….and myself ……..

which also brings to mind the question that should the delivery rooms be female only ? no partners/fathers in there at all ………

the over whelming answer to this in F Word was yes ……..which then gets me a little confused …….

feminists want us men in the delivery room…..but then dont want us men around ‘overnight’ as such ……….

Claire // Posted 25 March 2010 at 12:50 pm

Hey Jane, snap, UCH, three births. Plenty of complications and so glad I was in a hospital especially for last one who nearly died because of umblical cord knot.

I would also add that birth can be distressing for men. They can develop real sympathy pains and end up causing trouble that way too. Giving birth isn’t a party, much as we’d love it to be.

Laura // Posted 25 March 2010 at 12:51 pm

Nick – I don’t think we can draw any definite conclusions about what feminists want from a few comments! And, remember, we don’t all agree on everything anyway.

Becky – Yes, I should have written ‘partner or friend’ in my comment on who would have the right to stay. Sounds like the antenatal class people need better training in respecting different mothers’ situations and relationships.

Frank // Posted 25 March 2010 at 1:33 pm

I think it would be a really good idea BUT there would need to be a radical overhaul of the current set up so that mothers could have a supporter stay overnight with them in a private room (so as to avoid experiences like Jane’s).

As for it being loads of extra work for staff, I don’t see why in theory this is a problem? In practice I can see that if funding wasn’t increased to support that extra work and staff were expected to add it onto their already stretched workloads it would be an issue. When we talk about changes to maternity services to improve them we’re usually talking about extra/additional services/jobs. So better postnatal care would take more work, but it would be better and give mothers better support and a better quality experience after birth. I think it reflects what values we have in society, where we believe extra funding should go or where we just see it as ‘extra work.’

Being left in the care of professionals over night with a newborn can often be a very difficult experience. Professionals are busy, the definition of their roles can be limited – for example how much they can (or have time to) help you with. Where as (ideally) a supporter would be there just to help the mother and baby in whatever way was necessary.

I think mothers can often end up feeling isolated and helpless, especially as they are usually physically exhausted after labour/cesarean. Not to mention if there were any additional issues – tearing, drugs, etc.

And, of course, if mothers didn’t want someone to stay that wouldn’t be a problem, they could opt out of the provision.

Ally // Posted 25 March 2010 at 1:49 pm

I’d be terrified at the thought of sleeping overnight in such a vulnerable position with strange men in the next room!

I honestly don’t think I could go through pregnancy with what the NHS provides in the way of lack of privacy, lack of dignity, overriding your wishes and probing your uterus.

Hooray for the right to choose where to give birth though. Finally people can give birth in the privacy of their home without feeling like their baby is at risk! Although I imagine the Tories would honour the promise-being the supposedly pro-family party.

Elmo // Posted 25 March 2010 at 2:04 pm

I know many partners, male or female, might be disruptive to other patients if they stayed overnight, but I dont think its very fair to assume they will all be causing noise and being annoying. I cant imagine my dad would have behaved like that for a second

Frank // Posted 25 March 2010 at 3:11 pm

What about the idea of a female supporter being allowed? Or is this just as bad? I’m not sure what I think of that? Not sure what it says to men about encouraging them to take responsibility as a parent and not just see it as women’s work?

evie // Posted 25 March 2010 at 3:13 pm

I haven’t had any particularly coherent thoughts on this one, but I’d be interested in the potential implications for new mothers who are being abused by their partners. (I understand that pregnancy is a risk factor in abuse cases, and abuse can obviously cause complications with births). Especially in the context that midwives should now be routinely enquiring about abuse with pregnant women. PCTs seem to be getting (or a least trying to get) more sensitive to this issue, so this would be a new area where attitudes and competency were tested.

Alli // Posted 25 March 2010 at 3:23 pm

While it would be great if all women could be offered the option of giving birth at home, I don’t think it’s a classist assumption to say that middle class women are more likely to choose a home birth. The thing about a home birth is that it takes place in your actual home – not everyone is going to think that their house or flat is a practical place to give birth, and middle class women are more likely to have a home where they think they can have a good experience.

If there isn’t much indoor space to move around, or your front room is barely any bigger than the birthing pool, it’s probably going to give you second thoughts. And you might be worried about what your neighbours would hear through the walls/floor/ceiling; this might not be a major issue in a detached house, or even a solidly-built flat, but if you live somewhere with thin walls then the people next door are going to be privy to a lot of this very personal experience. If you rent, then you might be worried about accidentally damaging the landlord’s furniture and fittings, and even if you own your home you might not want to risk having to replace a carpet at a time when money is tight anyway.

Also, home birth is promoted more to middle class women, because the places where it tends to be really talked up are on natural birthing courses, which can cost hundreds of pounds.

FertileFem // Posted 25 March 2010 at 4:01 pm

I just wrote about this issue last week. http://www.fertilefeminism.com/pregnancy-and-birth/selling-out-on-the-postnatal-ward/

The reality is that most women do not get any rest in hospital after they’ve given birth. Be that because they are on the ward where it’s noisy or because they are in pain or still pumped up on the adrenalin rush of birth, or because, you know, they have a newborn to look after 24/7, it’s the rare woman who actually gets some quality sleep in hospital, regardless of whether she has a private room or not. If the midwives are too busy to give more than just cursory assistance (which they usually are because they’re understaffed), you’re literally left holding the baby.

I know that with my first birth I would have LOVED to have my husband there to help overnight. I’d been in labour all evening and night, finally delivering at 6.30am, and then got perhaps 1-2 hours sleep the following day/night because I was left all on my own with my daughter and was trying to figure out breastfeeding, learn how to change her nappies and dress her, and how to hold and comfort her, not to mention being too afraid to sleep in case she stopped breathing! When I finally went home the next afternoon, nearly 48 hours after I’d gone into labour, I was existing on 2 hours sleep. I was beside myself with exhaustion and it’s a bloody miracle I had enough energy to cope with the demands and problems that breastfeeding threw at me in the following days.

For my son’s birth I stayed at home, mainly because I wanted to avoid experiencing that level of exhaustion and loneliness again, and got to enjoy a steak dinner on my own sofa, baby in one arm, a few hours after the birth. My husband was there the whole time and stayed up bonding with his son while I went to get a few hours’ undisturbed rest in my own bed before the next feed. It was so much less stressful and allowed our entire family to bond on our own territory, with no dependence on the level of staffing available that night or having to hope I got a private room or quiet ward-mates.

As I mention in my post above, a system like the Dutch have might be a good solution — a maternity nurse sent to a woman’s home immediately after her release from hospital or shortly after her home birth who helps with all of the postnatal assistance a family needs: breastfeeding (or bottle feeding) help, emotional support, light housework and meal preparation, help with the shopping and visitors and just generally checking on the health of the mother and baby and making sure they are settling in well together with minimal stress.

Jeff // Posted 25 March 2010 at 8:26 pm

I think this is particularly encouraging, both the ability to give birth at home and the provision for fathers to stay with the mother after the birth.

Mercy // Posted 25 March 2010 at 8:57 pm

About time! I would have loved the choice of a home birth but got stuck with a hospital one.

As for birth partner (whether spouse, cohabitee, female birthing supporter, etc…) staying overnight, I agree in principle and also agree there are practical issues.

If a new mother is on a ward, it’s not going to work as the other new mothers don’t need extra bodies around (whether male partners or female extended family members – this isn’t a just female/male issue) when they need chance to recuperate and bond with a new baby.

If a new mother has a private room then there’s a opportunity for birth partner to stay. Hospital staff do have the ability to restrict visitors so if a new mother is clearly uncomfortable with the partner around they could asked to leave. Staff are supposed to monitor new mothers for signs of post-natal problems (physical and mental).

It’s about giving priority to the new mother’s needs. Some would love to have a partner around, some might welcome a bit of solo breathing space with a newborn and some women won’t know until the baby’s born.

I don’t see why it makes extra work for staff. In fact it could reduce work for staff if a new mother has a supporter to help her instead of pestering staff for help and/or reassurance. Staff need only remind the partner that the new mother is the patient, not them.

Liz // Posted 25 March 2010 at 9:17 pm

Well, remembering my second night in hospital after having my daughter by (a traumatic) C section (the first night was heavily drugged and immobile) I would definitely have benefitted from having my partner stay with me. When he left me that night, after attending to me and my LO most of the day, I was calling him on my mobile constantly for about an hour, begging him to come back. Midwives weren’t supportive, I just needed my partner. If it weren’t for the C section I could have been home by then.

My experience has led to my decision to fight for a home birth next time, because that solid unwavering support of my partner is pretty much the main thing that got me through the really traumatic time I had. Not sure how partners could be integrated into hospital wards though, considering how packed they normally are.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 25 March 2010 at 9:46 pm

I find the whole phrasing of ‘legal right to give birth at home’ a bit deceptive- like ooh the government is doing such a favour. You have a legal right to give birth wherever you want (you just might not be doing it with professional help).

What they are doing is expanding midwife provision to allow mothers to have professional help if they choose to give birth at home. And, is this not a promise we’ve heard again and again and again…

v // Posted 25 March 2010 at 11:48 pm

Working class woman who had a home birth, raising a hand here. After a hellish time in hospital the first time round, being able to bathe and eat and sleep in my own home after birthing was amazing. Who can afford good hospital care? Only the wealthy class.

In hospital, I went from crowded ward (2 1/2 days), to birthing room (a couple of hours), to surgery, and back to a crowded ward, where I stayed for a further 3 days. I was shattered, despite my partner being there for all the hours he was allowed to be. I hardly ate because it was so difficult to move, and the nurses etc are low on both time and patience. I had to keep hold of my baby most of the night and day because to put her down in the little container they give you was so difficult, I needed help to do it, and then needed more help to get her back out again. But I was made to feel that every glass of water I asked for, every bit of help I needed, was a pain in the butt for the staff. If my partner wasnt there, I didnt eat, it not being anyones job to help me to the cafeteria or to watch my baby while I hobbled myself (wheeling a bucket, catheter and blood carrying tubing along with me). I threw up and noone came to help me for more than half an hour, then the cleaning woman tutted and tipped a bottle of cleaning fluid over the patch of sick on the floor – I could barely breathe from the stench of it, and I certainly didnt get any help to move to the shower and wash myself off.

You think i’m joking? There are very good reasons why I was so meticulous and determined in planning my second birth. The only way a working class woman can be sure of decent maternity care is if she stays at home and arranges the whole damn thing herself, I learned that the hard way.

Private rooms and the ability to have a support partner present throughout the hospital stay are the very least feminists should be demanding for labouring and recently birthed women. Home birth is not a middle class womens demand, or privilege – it is the absolute least we should be demanding for all women who want it, including whatever support they need to do it.

And what do we really need at home? Not a birthing pool, not a large home, not expensive equipment to measure heartbeats or whatever. Just a tidy and clean room, a fridge full of small and easy to eat snacks and water, and a supportive birth partner (or two!) that we trust. The only other things we really need, whether choosing hospital or home, are good, neutral, woman focussed ante natal information about the whole process; similar information targetted specifically at the support partner; and confidence building affirmation of our ability to give birth. All of which are completely lacking at present, and all of which we should be demanding.

The support partner is there for the birthing woman, for goodness sakes. It is not about the menz, it is about support for the women, which you really cannot expect on the NHS – those wards are busy and totally understaffed. A support person we know and trust can make sure we get rest, make sure we get food and water, can be there for our emotional wobbles, which I think most of us get, especially the first time round.

I do not believe Labour about this for one second though. Their record on maternity services is unbelievably shit. This is just more bollocks to try and score a few votes.

Terri Hoggart // Posted 26 March 2010 at 8:53 am

Due to complications during my pregnancy I had my partner stay with me over night, which was lovely but we had our own private room. I really dont see how this would work on wards, which from what i saw were over crowed enough as it was. Also my cousin is having her first baby in 2months and has sorted out a home birth fine,so isnt it already legal to choose where you give birth?

Liz // Posted 26 March 2010 at 11:13 am

v: bravo – excellent comment.

Alex T // Posted 26 March 2010 at 9:17 pm

I was induced at night and went into labour pretty quickly. At about 3am I asked if I could contact my husband to come and support me and was firmly told that ‘visiting hours are between 8am and 8pm’ I didn’t want a fecking visitor, I wanted my birth partner and my baby’s father! What if labour had progressed quickly and my husband had missed his son’s birth? Jeez.

And as for fathers disturbing other mothers’ sleep, the 3 babies on my ward did a fine job of that on their own. A couple of dads lying around wouldn’t have made any difference.

And when both myself and the mother next to me were crying hysterically at 1am over our inability to breastfeed, any familiar face – let alone our partners – would have been welcome.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt more alone.

pam // Posted 26 March 2010 at 11:35 pm

V, thank you for a very good comment. your experience on an NHS ward sounded horific. Although home birth would of course be ideal, not all women can or want to do that so the alternative that should be on offer by the government, whoever that is, is that marernity wards should be much, much better staffed. There is no excuse at all for the kind of apalling treatment that you received. Funding for maternity ward improvements is what we should be pushing for but then, don’t hold your breath anyone!

Big Mama // Posted 27 March 2010 at 8:41 pm

I thought homebirths were already our legal right! …So does this mean that the NHS won’t be able to deny a homebirth to anyone?

Laura // Posted 28 March 2010 at 4:36 pm

@ Big Mama – Yes, I think that’s what is meant – sorry for my somewhat misleading title!

Sue G // Posted 28 March 2010 at 5:56 pm

Of course you don’t need a big house and a private midwife and a birthing pool to have a home birth. Neither do you need to be middle class to have a good experience in hospital. Unfortunately it is very much the luck of the draw. In some areas either service can be unreliable because of the shortage of midwives.

My grandson was born on Boxing day in Truro hospital but he was ill. The staff were excellent, but very overworked. Nonetheless my son was able to stay with his wife and sick baby for several days in a small room next to the special care baby unit. He didn’t in any way add to the nursing staff’s workload, in fact he did much of what they might have been expected to do in terms of fetching and carrying. I know some babies don’t have ideal fathers, but if NHS staffing problems were solved, there would be people available to keep an eye on the situation.

Ashleigh // Posted 28 March 2010 at 11:43 pm

Reading your posts has scared me I’m 27 weeks pregnant and want 2 have my daughter in a birthing pool at uch I don’t understand why some think partners should not be aloud 2 stay if I go in two labour at 2 am he is comming with me and not leaving my side until we get back home I think it is important for the babys farther to be there when I’m in hospital to make me feel more confident and secure it’s not any ones decision but mine ( reply to coment left by ally 25 march 2010 about beaing Vunurable with strange men in tthe next room I’m positive that he is more concerned about his new child and the mother of his child to be woring about u and what makes u think that a woman can’t cause u the same harm just because u don’t want ur babys father there dosent mean ever one should suffer personally I think ur coment is selfish . I’m having my first baby at uch and yes I’m terified the only thing that gives me comfort is knowing that my husband will be with me the whole time

Claire // Posted 29 March 2010 at 9:16 am

The only way this could work in hospitals would be where the hospitals were large enough to have two completely separate wards so that women could elect for a male-free and visitor-free environment during hours of darkness (other than professionals). Anyone reading the stats on sexual assaults on mixed wards should want the same and to protect those mothers who don’t want men unknown to them around at a vulnerable time.

gadgetgal // Posted 29 March 2010 at 9:46 am

@Claire – good point!I wonder what the logistics would be, and whether two wards would be possible? I don’t see why not, it’s a good solution to all the opposing points of view put across here.

Claire // Posted 29 March 2010 at 11:12 am

Dear Ashleigh

I’ve given birth three times at UCH. They allow fathers to be present throughout the labour. In fact, privacy is non-existant and even my brother and his best man turned up uninvited when my legs were in stirrups facing the doorway, and stood watching the proceedings until they went to the pub. The issue for you will arise when you go to the ward, depending on what time of day or night it is. When I gave birth at night, they let my husband make sure I was settled on the ward (about two hours after I’d actually finished labour). Then he went home to let me rest and be with the baby, to return in time for breakfast (bringing in pret a manger porridge or a home made bacon sandwich wrapped up in tin foil beats hospital food and is something useful a partner can do for you). Speak to the midwife about it before you give birth. You can try to book one of the amenity rooms – but they cost upwards of 100 pounds. Then you get privacy.

Plan to get home as quickly as you can if you have had a uncomplicated labour.

Ashleigh // Posted 29 March 2010 at 2:57 pm

I have made sure everayone knows that thay are not invited and that I only want him there I understand thay that want the mother and baby to rest At night but who will be there to help with the baby e.g emergency c section at 3 in the morning how am I ment to change her if I’m full of drugs and can’t move personally I plan 2 go home as soon as possable after the birth but if somthing happens I would want him there . You do get to give birth in a private room don’t you not on a ward my understanding was you are only moved to the ward after you have had an eperdural or somthing or if aftercare is neaded overnight I want to use the birthing center witch I thourght was a private room with a birth pool I haven’t been told about costs and asumed it is free to use as it is an nhs natural birthing ward there are no doctors only midwifes

Claire // Posted 29 March 2010 at 4:40 pm

Hi Ashleigh

I am a bit worried to respond as this is getting slightly personal, but on the other hand, that you should be worried about these things and not have a midwife who can set your mind at rest is symptomatic of care levels in this country – which frankly having relatives care for people in hospitals is not going to alleviate. You do give birth in private. However, the room can get quite crowded with professionals. You don’t even get to know all their names sometimes. I think UCH like you to be in for about six hours absolute minimum after giving birth, so you would go to a ward for that time.

If you have an emergency c section, or anything else like that, the midwives will help. The midwives helped me a lot with my first baby who was born quite blue. The birthing pool is free, it’s only the amenity rooms which you can use instead of the ward where you have to pay.

You do sound quite anxious. Have you done your hospital tour yet? Or been to the ante-natal classes? That might help. Sometimes the birthing pool won’t be available or there might be something indicated that means you can’t have it. Don’t be down-hearted. I’ve had epidurals, stitiches, ventouse and forceps – none of which was on the birth plan. Giving birth is apparently nice for some women. It certainly wasn’t for me, but it was most certainly worth it.

Alex T // Posted 30 March 2010 at 11:17 pm

Ashleigh – I wasn’t too impressed with my birth experience, and, like you, was very scared about what was going to happen, but we all come out of it alright in the end! There’s pain, and there are scary bits and annoying bits, whatever happens, but in the long-run you’ll be absolutely fine. Best of luck xx

Ashleigh // Posted 31 March 2010 at 10:17 pm

Thank you claire and alex u have settled my nerves

Horry // Posted 31 March 2010 at 10:23 pm

In any debate about choices in childbirth, I think it’s important to remember that a experiencing a successful live birth is not testimony to the power of womankind, but a massive privilege in itself. I don’t mean this in the sense of “so think yourselves lucky and stop questioning the conditions of such births” (on the contrary, we should continue to do so). What I mean is that if you start presenting labour as an area in which women instinctively know their own bodies and can make choices from a position of authority, you have to consider how this might resonate with women who’ve experienced miscarriage and stillbirth. I’ve since had children, but after my first pregnancy went wrong I would have found exactly this type of debate deeply upsetting. How can women who are having or have had successful pregnancies lay claim to such universal knowledge and capability, just because they are more able than others to physically reproduce?

Giving birth is such an extreme physical and emotional experience, yet most women only experience it a few times at the most. Birth experiences are so variable, yet the intensity of your own can lead you to see it as representative of something deeper, applicable to other women in terms of its “rightness” or “wrongness”. To be honest, I think we should be more cautious and if anything, place less import on experiencing birth in a way which gives you the appropriate narrative at the end. No one should be using women’s bodies as a battleground for their own ideals (and I think some, but far from all, midwives and doctors do this, as though we’re pieces of meat to be fought over in a quest for professional status). At the same time, I wonder how feminist it actually is to make experiencing a good labour an issue of empowerment and choice, instead of focussing on the simpler objective of treating all labouring and postnatal women with respect as autonomous human beings.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that while I’d also have liked to have had my partner there on the night after our first child was born (I too was very scared) and may have liked a home birth with our second (he was born in the ground in a car park) I don’t think we should allow labour, birth and the time immediately afterwards to gain too much import in terms of perceptions of our own power. Whether or not a partner is or isn’t there for one night or you are or you aren’t at home is simply scratching at the surface, beneath which lies such a vast number of things you can’t control, however organised and forceful you are. We should fight for control over any decisions made regarding our own bodies, but we should not confuse this with believing that our bodies will thereby always be controllable. (I hope what I mean is clear – I tried to keep this short, and posted a longer version of my response on my blog.)

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