Mothers and babies spending time together in hospital
Women and their babies were often separated in the hospital after birth, and were unable to see each other right away. This could be because the mother was very unwell and needed stabilising, or in some cases, was being cared for in an ICU (Intensive Care Unit) or HDU (High Dependency Unit). Some mothers who had caesarean sections said they had been able to briefly see their baby in the operating theatre, but then there could be hours or even days before the next opportunity to see or touch their baby. Paige wasn’t able to see her baby for 26 hours as she was “bed-bound”. Michael remembered it being a “bit difficult” having his wife in one part of the hospital and their new baby in another, and “neither of them were in a state to be transported to the other for a while”.
Having pre-eclampsia meant that often the baby needed to be delivered early. Women we spoke to had their baby as early as 25 weeks (whereas a full-term baby would be born at 37-40 weeks). So sometimes the baby needed to be cared for in a neonatal unit for several weeks or even months. There are three main levels of neonatal units to suit the needs of different babies: NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit), LNU (Local Neonatal Unit) and SCBU (Special Care Baby Unit). This meant that, as well as recovering their own health, some women also had the challenge of visiting their new baby in the neonatal unit. This could be in a different part of the hospital or, in some cases, in a different hospital. There could be extra restrictions on visits and physical contact for babies born early and with health problems and in neonatal units. Whilst being unwell and recovering from the birth, having a newborn to look after (in the hospital room or at home after being discharged) could also be physically tough. Olivia remembered that she barely slept for the first two days as her baby “didn’t sleep at all – he's a flipping reflux baby, so he didn’t want to lie down”.
Most women found that, once they and their babies were both home, bonding became much easier. Although a few said their experiences left them quite anxious about the health of their babies and that of themselves (see also the sections on emotional impacts, baby’s future health and women’s long-term health). Separation in the hospital
Being separated from their baby whilst in hospital presented challenges. Distance was one. Lyndsey said it was “not ideal” that the postnatal maternity ward and SCBU were on different floors of her hospital. Aileen remembered the NICU being a long walk from where she was and “if I ask for a porter for a wheelchair, it takes a while for them to arrive”. In addition to distance, some staff on the postnatal ward were unaware of their circumstances. Josie said there was “little understanding of the fact that I didn’t even have my baby with me” nor how ill she was.
Occasionally, women or their baby had to be transferred to another hospital. Kate was sent to an ICU in another hospital for a couple of days shortly after giving birth. Aileen’s baby was moved to another hospital as the NICU ward was too busy. This NICU was 30-40 miles away and visiting was tricky as she already had a young child at home and couldn’t drive because of the caesarean section. Betty was worried when she was told her baby would be transferred to another hospital: “unfortunately it doesn’t have the best reputation – wrongly because we have received fantastic care there”. Being separated from their new baby could be upsetting, making women feel they weren’t really able to be a mother. Kelly thought it was good that she had a private room rather than being on the main ward, but she also felt “a bit lost” there without her baby. Betty found it hard being on a different ward when her baby was in SCBU: “it felt like I’m not really a mother – you don’t have that bonding experience and, even when I did visit him, he was in a box and his skin was so raw and tender that you can't really touch him properly”.
Having the option of a separate space for mother and baby was sometimes important. Emma said knowing her baby was being looked after in SCBU gave her the opportunity to rest and recover. Ruth X thought it was good that she was allowed to stay on the postnatal ward for some extra days because it was not fully booked out; this meant she could rest and heal quickly but also be near her baby.
Access to photographs or video of their baby could bridge the distance to some extent, and partners often helped with this. Although partners and other family members often tried to bridge mother and baby, it could be hard on them to be pulled in two different directions. Samantha X and her baby were in different parts of the hospital and she remembered her husband “going between the two of us”. Stewart described himself as being a “split dad or husband” and there was a “torn feeling” about which person he should be with.