Fathers staying overnight at the maternity ward?
The Scottish government (2017) is set on making maternity care more inclusive of fathers, which includes allowing them to stay overnight with mothers and babies in the maternity ward. As part of the Best start plan (Scottish government, 2017), one of the main points under the ‘new model of care’ is that ‘fathers, partners and other family members are actively encouraged and supported to become an integral part of all aspects of care,’ which encompasses Scotland's vision of future neonatal and maternity care.
This has sparked a debate as to whether this is viable for hospitals, staff and mothers in the maternity ward. A recent case at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary exacerbated the view that fathers are creating difficulty in the ward for staff and other mothers by treating it ‘like a hotel’, which caused midwives to complain about their behaviour to NHS Lothian chiefs (The Scotsman, 2020).
Aside from this, women may feel too embarrassed to breastfeed or discuss details about pain after birth with staff with other women's partners in the maternity ward.
Another instance saw one mother based in London take to Twitter to express how ‘outrageous’ and ‘unfair’ it is that her baby's father was not permitted to stay in maternity ward with her (Bakar, 2019). After birth, some mothers may need support from a partner, especially if it was a traumatic process. Even if that is not the case, some may wish to share in the joyous moments with their partner. An enormous amount of attention is placed on establishing the bond between mother and baby, yet the bond between father and baby seems to be side-lined.
Practicality of the hospital and the comfort of the mother are the main opposition points however, this should not come at the expense of the father's role in the birth process. Excluding the father can often create feelings of inferiority in the family unit, which is what the Best start plan is trying to eradicate. The Royal Free Hospital, for instance, has clear rules for allowing a birthing partner or companion to stay with the mother overnight: ‘We recognise that this aids with family bonding and can reduce anxiety and stress among mothers … You [partners] can use the chair by the bed to rest and you will need to bring your own blanket or pillow (Royal Free Hospital, 2019).’ But not every hospital has the resources – including healthcare staff and space – to allow for partners to stay in the maternity ward.
Inclusivity of fathers is important however, and supporting ways in which they can be a part of the birthing process that does not put strain on staff and mothers will be beneficial to the family unit as a whole.