Should dads be allowed to stay overnight on postnatal wards?

I wrote a tweet which sparked a debate abut whether fathers should be allowed to stay with their partner and newborn baby on the postnatal ward, or if they should be sent home (potentially just hours after the birth). I spoke about it on BBC radio…

I’ve been leading an interesting debate over the past week, stemming from a tweet I wrote about the fact that my local hospital has a policy banning fathers from staying on the postnatal ward overnight, after the birth of their baby. (My third baby is due in August). It ended up as a Daily Mail article and has since been written up by other publications.

I wrote on Twitter:

‘My local hospital doesn’t allow partners to stay on postnatal ward after their baby has been born. I think this is outrageous – unfair on the mother; unfair on the father, who’s being made to feel unimportant. He needs to bond too. Do other UK hospitals have this rule?’

The response was strong, and divided. Some women agreed that dads should be allowed to stay, as they wanted and needed their support after the trauma of giving brith, and they felt that dads should be allowed to bond in those early hours and days.

One 17-year-old mother described being petrified as her boyfriend was sent home just hours after she’d given birth.

Fathers were describing being forced to leave their partner and new baby, getting home and crying. Women who’d had emergency c-sections and could barely moved felt utterly unsupported. Words like ‘terrified’ and ‘vulnerable’ were being used repeatedly.

Others felt there are safe-guarding issues; that vulnerable women shouldn’t have to be exposed to men they don’t now during this physically and emotionally sensitive time. Some mentioned high levels of sexual abuse following birth.

There were also issues with men using the toilets on the ward, snoring and speaking loudly on their phones.

I remain convinced that fathers should be allowed to stay. If we want equality in parenting, and sexual equality in general, it needs to stem from the moment the child is born. Separating a father from his baby so early on says: you don’t matter; you’re not needed.

It says to the mother: you should be able to do this alone. This, for many, creates a scary and uncertain introduction to motherhood – rather than the supported one we all hope for.

There are midwives at hospital but we know the NHS is massively understaffed and overworked, so new mothers aren’t getting the care they need and deserve. Those who have partners who are willing and able to stay could lighten the load of the midwives, leaving them free to support single mothers and those who are particularly vulnerable.

We wonder why Shared Parental Leave uptake is so low – it’s just 1% now – perhaps it’s because fathers don’t feel as if their role in their children’s lives is as significant as the mother’s. Maybe they start thinking about this when they’re sent home from the hospital, potentially hours after their baby has been born.

Imagine if this happened to the mother?

I spoke about this live on BBC radio  – you can listen here, I come in around 1hr, 24 mins.

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