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Mothers 'short-changed' by underfunded postnatal services

Half of all new mothers were not told signs and symptoms of potentially life-threatening conditions for themselves and their newborns within 24 hours, a survey has revealed. 

According to a survey by Netmums, for the Royal College of Midwives(RCM), only a quarter (24%) of mothers recalled receiving information about what signs and symptoms to look for might be a danger to them and their baby.

Over a third (36%) of midwives and maternity support workers said that they would like to be able to do more for mothers and babies.  

When asked what determines how many postnatal visits women had, only 24% said that this was determined by the women's needs, while an overwhelming two-thirds (65%) said this was determined by a hospital's “organisational” pressures. 

A new report from the RCM examines whether maternity teams have the time to provide the postnatal care and vital advice that mothers, babies and families need. 

RCM chief executive Professor Cathy Warwick said: “It is clear that our members are taking the strain of an underfunded and under resourced postnatal service. A service that without sufficient means can lead to harmful consequences on the health of mothers and children that the maternity team struggle to care for.

“We fear that financial belt-tightening and the shortage of midwives, particularly in England, means women leaving maternity units too early and being short-changed when it comes to postnatal visits.”

Within the first 24-hours after the birth, a mother should be advised of the signs and symptoms of potentially life-threatening conditions both to herself and her baby, such as a racing pulse, which can be a sign of excess bleeding. 

She should understand what to look for and when to call the emergency services. The majority of maternal deaths in the UK happen after the birth, so addressing concerns around postnatal care is of paramount importance.

The report, Pressure Points, recommends:

 - Providers of NHS maternity care need to recruit enough midwives and

Maternity Support Workers and organise their service so that they can provide a better standard of postnatal care in hospital and community settings.

 - Organisations providing maternity care must ensure that midwives have 'protected time' to keep abreast of new national standards and guidelines and they that they also have the opportunity to input into how national standards are implemented at a local level.

 - Midwife shortages need to be addressed. If there were more midwives they would be able to spend more time with student midwives on clinical placements and improve their learning experience.

 - Those providing maternity care need to employ enough midwives to ensure that maternity staff have the time to give women vital information about their safety and their baby's safety.

 - Midwives should be entrusted to make clinical decisions about the most appropriate level of postnatal visiting, depending on the needs of each mother and baby rather than organisational or financial constraints.

In England, the RCM is campaigning for 4,800 more midwives. For more information visit the RCM website.