It’s easy to know when you should go to the hospital once you enter the early stages of labour. Well, almost easy. But given the way hospitals are built these days, with extra comforts, it would be so simple to stay on for a few days after giving birth, right? Especially when you are surrounded by people who actually do have answers to every question you might have about the baby.
There is a lot of information about the care and rest you need to take right up to the birth itself, but little or nothing about how important post-partum care can be.
Some mothers may prefer the assistance of the neo-natal medical team, while some may prefer the comfort of being surrounded by family in their own homes. Of course, hospital policies and conveniences differ everywhere. For instance, here in India, we know of many mothers who come home as soon as the day after they give birth. But even in countries such as Australia and the UK, mothers don’t have the option of staying a day or two extra if necessary or requested.
The critical question in asking how soon after birth should women go home is not about comfort but more about the kind of support system that the new mother may or may not have if once she leaves the hospital. Who is going to take care of the new mother?
New mothers need plenty of extra nutrition and rest to recover from the arduous birth process. According to the World Health Organisation, the first month after giving birth is the most crucial not only for the baby but also for the mother, and that most post-natal deaths occur around this time.
Another significant issue around this topic is that more and more women are being encouraged to give birth at hospitals, whereas traditionally they would have given birth at home with the help of a midwife or in a smaller establishment such as a nursing home. But given the increasing number of admissions for birth, hospitals are struggling to accommodate post-partum care within the existing infrastructure framework. If you are a mother in India or ask your mother, typically the woman goes back to her mother’s place after the delivery to recuperate from her delivery and bond with the baby.
It is also important to understand that as families become nuclear, and urbanization grows, access to the hospital or any postpartum care becomes inaccessible for new mothers who are discharged immediately. This implies little or no support system and a steep learning curve for the new mother. According to this publication from the WHO, mothers should be allowed to stay in the health facility for at least 24 hours following a normal, healthy birth (1).
According to research conducted in over 90 countries, nations need to improve policies that mandate that women be given appropriate postpartum care to improve overall health outcomes in respective countries (2).
While policies and hospital capacities differ from country to country, for the first 24 hours after birth, it is crucial that the new mother stays in the hospital and is given appropriate post-natal care. While it might not always be possible, expecting mothers could check in théir cities and towns regarding the availability of mid-wives for postpartum care after discharge from the hospital.