Despite the wealth of information that supports the numerous benefits that receiving the right postnatal care have to a woman, her baby and family, we are still not making sure all women, regardless where they live in New Zealand, receive the 48 hours, in-patient, postnatal care to which they are entitled.
Whether it’s because we undervalue this time or because it’s the way our maternity system is funded, being denied access to maternity services is simply not OK.
For some women, becoming a mother is a moment of joy. They immediately bond with their baby, they gaze adoringly into their eyes, form a connection, have a partner who is ‘over the moon’ and a family who is gushy and they feel good – albeit they’re probably a little sore, tired after enduring childbirth and apprehensive about the coming days.
Yet for many women this isn’t the case. They don’t have that automatic ‘love’ for their baby that they’ve been told to expect, they might have trouble feeding, they’re tired, sore, lonely and desperate – desperate for help, love and reassurance. Yet they are encouraged to go home feeling empty and ill-equipped for the long, hard journey ahead of them. And who knows what home is like.
For too long, we have been undervaluing the importance of the first 48 hours after the birth of a baby and overlooking deeper and more worrying problems.
There is no other time that we can easily intervene, we can provide care and love, we can teach new mothers (and fathers) how to be a parent, what to expect and critically, to form a loving bond and attachment to their new baby – which will help that child throughout their whole lifetime.
By valuing this time, we can prevent a child from going down the wrong life trajectory and we have the opportunity to make a positive difference to their life regardless of their home environment.
We don’t believe any health professional would ever want a new mother to go home before she is ready. But because of the way our maternity services are funded, they have their hands tied. If a woman appears to be coping, is clinically well, has ticked most of the boxes, there is a shortage of beds and no other DHB funded maternity facility close by or available to send her to, what choice do they have?
Right now, some of you might be thinking – “yes, it would be nice to provide this but we have a limited health budget and we can’t help everyone”. And others of you may be saying “These women are not sick and millions of women before them have coped”.
What you need to know is that our Government already provides funding to each DHB for the provision of maternity services.
The problem isn’t whether there is enough funding, the problem is how each DHB allocates their maternity services dollar and the choice they make to fund a range of maternity facilities.
Do DHB’s really have the capability to understand which facility is best for a woman and therefore be able to make that choice on her behalf? Maybe, to ensure women are not being denied access to maternity services, we should fund a wider range of facilities – tertiary, primary and community, across a broader geographical area so that all women receive what they deserve.
A simple solution to this problem is to establish a ring-fence maternity fund, managed by the Ministry of Health. This would solve the current post-code approach to the provision of maternity services and would ensure the funding allocated for these services are actually used for women and babies and not elsewhere in the health system.
If we are really serious about making a difference to the wellbeing of New Zealanders, we need to stop what isn’t working and look at how we can make it work.
Let’s put a stop to more desperate stories about women giving birth on the side of the road or leaving hospital within 2 hours of giving birth, and maybe we might also be able to turn around our horrific rates of postnatal depression, child abuse and neglect.
Come on New Zealand, our women, our children and our families deserve this.