Two thirds of East Devon new mums exhausted when they leave hospital

Almost two thirds of East Devon mums are exhausted when they leave hospital after having a baby.  That’s the results of a survey published today, by campaign group, Honiton Maternity Matters.

And a worrying 16 mums (almost half the respondents) then went on to ‘struggle to manage’ or ‘really struggle to manage’ when they returned home.

The online questionnaire, which was emailed to more than 2,800 people on the Facebook group ‘Save Honiton Maternity On-site Aftercare’ was aimed at women who had given birth at Honiton maternity unit and the RD&E since transfers from the RD&E and overnight stays ceased at Honiton in February.

A total of 39 women responded to the survey – thought to be around half of East Devon women giving birth in that timeframe – which listed 28 questions on local mums’ experiences, including breast-feeding support.

Ann-Marie Chapman from Axminster gave birth at Honiton in May.  After 48 hours with just a couple of hours sleep and then a difficult first night at home with her new baby, she was completely exhausted and struggled to cope.

She said:  “It was really hard.  I was utterly exhausted and was extremely teary. I was very lucky and had the support of my husband and parents who looked after my baby whilst my husband and I got little naps.”

And due to problems with trying to get a midwife to visit at the right time for help with breast-feeding, Ann-Marie decided instead to turn to her midwife sister-in-law for assistance.

Ann-Marie explained: “I had a horrible first night where my baby screamed and screamed but wouldn’t latch on properly.  We phoned the maternity unit to ask for advice but I wanted someone there in person.  Unfortunately the timing never worked.  In the end I had to ask my sister-in-law for help, who is a midwife at Yeovil.”

Retired Ottery St Mary GP, John Ackroyd said:  “I am not surprised by the results of this survey. A period of rest is very important after childbirth, whether normal or complex, for most mothers. In a community hospital experienced staff are on hand to assist with the practical initiation of breast-feeding and the essentials of baby care. Overnight stays allow this to occur but also allow recovery time from the exhaustion which accompanies many labours.”

Claire Wright, Ottery St Mary Town Councillor for West Hill, added:  “We had some very revealing remarks which prove that the new telephone advice system is impractical.

“Mums need three hands to receive telephone advice on breast-feeding – one to position the baby, one to adjust the breast and another to hold the phone.  It’s not fair and it doesn’t work.”

Ann-Marie’s experience is typical of the mums who completed the survey, with over half of the women (18 out of 33) not confident about breast-feeding when they were discharged.  13 of those women sought help once they were at home and seven women were visited by a midwife.  Three of those seven waited longer than 13 hours to be seen.  At Honiton’s maternity unit, women received instant face-to-face help and advice any time of the day or night they needed it.

Two women say they gave up breast-feeding due to difficulties.

The survey results are published ahead of Devon County Council’s Adults Health Scrutiny meeting debate on maternity services, which takes place next Thursday (23 September) at 10am.  At this meeting the scrutiny committee will decide whether or not to endorse proposals to end overnight stays at Honiton maternity unit.

Women from all over East Devon took part in the survey but the majority of respondents were from Honiton, with 16 (41%) of replies from the town.  Ottery St Mary and Exmouth had six and five responses respectively.  All the other East Devon towns had one or two respondents each.

Honiton Town Cllr, Vernon Whitlock said: “The results of the survey confirm that the retention of overnight facilities at Honiton Maternity Unit is not just a luxury, but an essential option for new mums. The unit and its staff have established an excellent reputation and provide a vital service which should be retained.”

Over half of respondents indicated that they would like to stay at Honiton Hospital for two nights.  The most popular reasons for this were rest and breast-feeding advice.

Over two thirds of women who gave birth at the RD&E said they did so for medical reasons only.  Just two said it was because the RD&E was their first choice.  The remainder of women (one quarter) said they gave birth at the RD&E because Honiton maternity unit was closed overnight.

Claire Wright commented:  “Although the numbers are quite small, one quarter as a proportion is significant and it makes us wonder that if the plans do go through, the numbers giving birth at Honiton would simply dwindle until it was difficult to justify keeping the unit open.”

“We are now looking forward to the scrutiny meeting next week, to presenting our findings and hearing the debate.  Many councillors expressed concern over proposals at their last meeting on 3 June.  We hope the results of our survey will convince them to reject NHS plans.”

Come along to Devon County Council’s Adults Health Scrutiny meeting debate on maternity services, which takes place on Thursday (23 September 2010) at 10am at Devon County Hall in Exeter. I’ll be there with other members of the Honiton Maternity Matters Group. We will be peacefully demonstrating outside before the meeting then attending the meeting where some of our members are hoping to speak. Email me for details or if you need a lift over there etc. sdpavey@googlemail.com

Sharon

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