Access to the baby after an emergency

Key Learning Points
  • Even when very ill, women want to be a mother to their new baby
  • Many women face challenges in seeing their new baby, and it would be helpful to develop protocols ahead of time for women who require high dependency or intensive care to facilitate the baby being allowed to visit the mother or vice versa
  • Where it is not possible for women to see or be with their baby, they really appreciate being kept in touch with the baby’s progress through:

Photos

regular verbal or written updates such as a diary of the baby’s day

direct contact with the paediatrician when the baby is ill

  • Missing a baby’s ‘firsts’ is something women really notice; if at all possible they want to be there for important milestones such as the first feed.
When a mother experiences a near miss event in childbirth, the professionals’ focus is on saving her life and stabilising her. In this summary we discuss what mothers and fathers told us about being separated from their newborn after the emergency and how it affected them.
Mother’s distress at not being able to be with their newborn baby
Most new mothers have an overwhelming desire to see and start caring for their newborn baby. When the mother experiences a near miss in childbirth, this is often not possible. While some mothers may have understood and expected the birth of their child was going to be life-threatening (for example, where placenta praevia has been diagnosed), for others it comes as a profound shock. They are not prepared to wake up in intensive care (ITU) or a high dependency unit (HDU) and find themselves separated from their baby.

Karen was in ITU after her haemorrhage and hysterectomy. Intensive care nurses helped her to go…

Age at interview 44

Gender Female

Age at diagnosis 42

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Kate was in a different hospital from her son. Photographs and the little diary the nurses wrote…

Age at interview 35

Gender Female

Age at diagnosis 34

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Women who woke up in intensive care (or high dependency) found it very frightening. They also did not know very much about what an ITU/HDU was and that there would be limitations on how easily they could see their baby.

Hannah was in intensive care and not able to see her daughter for 12 hours. She was frustrated by…

Age at interview 36

Gender Female

Age at diagnosis 34

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Women who were not able to see and look after their newborn babies straight away described feeling traumatised, cheated and saddened. The emotional highs and lows of childbirth were overlaid with realising and starting to come to terms with how critically ill they had been. While they understood that their serious illness made it necessary to be separated from their baby, because they were in intensive care or not yet stabilised after the emergency, it was nevertheless intensely painful. Hannah said, ‘We had to fight for her to come up to intensive care, all sorts of things I shouldn’t really have to cope with.’

Alison had to wait 27 hours before she met her son, as she was still on ITU. She felt sad that…

Age at interview 32

Gender Female

Age at diagnosis 30

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After she was born, Linda’s daughter was taken away to be cared for elsewhere, but she wishes…

Age at interview 57

Gender Female

Age at diagnosis 34

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Getting news about the baby
Some women described being intensely worried about their baby’s health because they couldn’t see them. Clear communication from staff would have alleviated their anxieties.

When Paula woke up in intensive care, she was worried about whether her daughter was OK. If…

Age at interview 49

Gender Female

Age at diagnosis 46

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Rebecca said it was traumatic to wake up and know she had had a baby and not be able to see her…

Age at interview 42

Gender Female

Age at diagnosis 40

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Some women had examples of communication from staff about where the baby was, and how she/he was doing which they found really helpful and reassuring.

When she came round in intensive care, nurses chatted to Paula and found out news about how her…

Age at interview 49

Gender Female

Age at diagnosis 46

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Alex’s daughter was born early and sent to neo-natal intensive care. She couldn’t visit her…

Age at interview 37

Gender Male

Age at diagnosis 36

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Getting to see the baby
In some instances, staff were able to support mothers getting to see their newborn babies, either by bringing them to the ITU or helping the mother out of ITU for a short while. Cara was aware that her daughter was brought to see her in intensive care for short visits, although she was being cared for by her husband and nurses elsewhere. While Sarah was grateful that staff brought her baby to see her in ITU, she is sad now that she can’t really remember very much about it.
In some instances the baby was sent to neo-natal intensive care (NICU) but the mothers were not able to go and visit them easily because they were still unwell. Helen had to wait until she was out of HDU before she could go and visit her son. This caused distress, and women described being very grateful to staff for supporting them to visit their newborns.

Visiting her son was the highlight of Farkhanda’s days. She really appreciated the help staff…

Age at interview 35

Gender Female

Age at diagnosis 34

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Difficulties with transfer
In some instances, staff transferred mothers to other areas of the hospital so they could be with their baby. This was hard to balance as sometimes, although the mother was desperate to see her baby, she needed more care than was possible in those areas of the hospital. For more see, ‘Transfer from critical care’ & ‘Contact with the baby’.