The measures preventing UK parents from staying with their babies when one or both require hospital treatment are causing trauma and increasing the risk of physical and mental health problems, it is claimed.
Some parents of sick babies are also being barred from seeing their child in neonatal units, which is causing distress and preventing bonding.
Campaigners have written to the health secretary, Matt Hancock, to raise their concerns. They want hospitals to review these policies urgently and have called for a working group to draw up national standards to meet families’ needs during pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding.
Dr Victoria Thomas, a paediatrician and co-chair of the Hospital Infant Feeding Network, said restrictions were being applied differently by different hospitals, meaning families faced a postcode lottery.
“Mums and babies are effectively one unit. As a clinician, I can’t see any additional risk to having a baby admitted with its mother or vice versa,” she said.
More than 250 doctors and 18 charities working with families are among the letter’s 650 signatories. They are demanding that mothers and children be kept together as much as possible, that hospitals acknowledge that neither mother nor child is a visitor when the other is hospitalised and that guidelines published by regulator Nice, the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecologists and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health are followed.
“People who are separating parents and babies are going against the guidelines and acting in detriment to children and parents’ mental and physical health,” said Thomas.
Amy Taylor, 33, was separated from her seven-week-old son for 27 hours after she woke up unable to move one morning. She was taken to hospital in north-east England by ambulance. “My son had always refused a bottle so I was terrified he would get too dehydrated and be admitted into hospital himself,” she said.
She said the care she received in hospital was good but that restrictions did not allow her to see her son during her stay. She now has to attend two hospital appointments a week without her son. “It’s an ongoing problem. It makes everything more stressful,” she said. Taylor has been referred to counselling, mainly due to the trauma of being separated from her newborn baby.
“A mother and her baby should never be separated – in a hospital, a restaurant, anywhere,” said Dr Helen Mactier, president of the British Association of Perinatal Medicine. “In most cases, a rule made up for other [hospital departments] gets blanket applied. Our message is that parents are partners in care and should have unrestricted access to the baby.”
Dr Janine Simpson, 33, had mixed experiences at the hospital where she was treated for mastitis. She was admitted into A&E, where her husband was allowed in a side room with her baby to enable her to feed. But weeks later, she had to attend an appointment for the same problem and was told repeatedly that her three-month-old baby would not be able to join her. Instead someone would have to wait with her daughter for up to three hours in a car park 30 minutes’ walk away from the hospital.
“Part of treatment for mastitis is to breastfeed regularly,” said Simpson. “I can’t have my daughter away from me for an hour. I challenged them and spoke to the consultant three or four times. I spoke to the infant feeding team. They said there was nothing they could do. There were so many challenges that Covid brought. It was heartbreaking.”
In other accounts given to the Hospital Infant Feeding Network, women report being sent away from outpatient clinic and scan appointments because they have attended with their baby. Some have had to wait for Covid swabs to be returned before being allowed to join their infants on mother and baby units, resulting in three days’ separation at a critical time.
The revelations follow a survey by Bliss, a charity for families with babies cared for in neonatal units, which found hospitals had placed restrictions on visits by parents. Bliss says such limitations have an enormous impact on families, affecting their mental health and wellbeing.
An NHS England spokesperson said: “The NHS has been clear that parents should be with their babies in neonatal units as much as possible and any restrictions should only happen when absolutely necessary.”
Article: 16th Novemeber 2020 www.the guardian.com