Valerie Gommon Midwife’s Blog

Going to hospital too early may cause complications

Posted on: February 21, 2010

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/health/article6932530.ece

Men who panic when their partners go into labour may be rushing them into hospital too early. Professor Mary Nolan, of the University of Worcester, said that their interference could be overriding the advice from midwives and leading to greater numbers of complicated births.

Labour can last 12 to 18 hours for a woman giving birth for the first time, and the longer women are in hospital the more likely they are to receive medical interventions such as painkillers or drugs to hasten labour when they don’t need them.

Midwives try to encourage women to stay at home as long as possible because evidence suggests that the longer a woman stays out of hospital, the more straightforward her labour. Hospitals also want to avoid women blocking beds for hours before they give birth.

But a survey of 2,400 women visiting the parenting website Babycentre.co.uk and follow-up phone interviews with new mothers found that despite the advice of midwives to stay at home during the early stages of labour, many fathers had been anxious to get to hospital quickly.

Professor Mary Nolan, from the University of Worcester, said: “Women rely on their partners to support them during labour but many first-time fathers feel that they should get their partner into hospital as quickly as possible.

“Although women are prepared to heed the advice to stay calm and remain at home until they really feel like their labour is progressing fast, the fretting of their partners drove them to go in earlier than they would otherwise have done”.

The findings come as the role of fathers before and during childbirth will be debated at the Royal College of Midwives’ Annual Conference in Manchester today.

Michel Odent, a leading French obstetrician and author, will argue that men should not be present in the delivery room when women give birth, as their anxiety can be catching and make labour longer, more painful or likely to result in a Caesarean section. Men now attend more than 90 per cent of births in the UK, a proportion that has grown significantly since the 1950s.

Dr Odent believes that the birth process had become too “masculinised” in recent years, and delivery of babies would be easier if women were left with only an experienced midwife to help them, as used to be the case.

“It is absolutely normal that men are not relaxed when their partners are giving birth, but their release of adrenaline can be contagious,” he said yesterday. “When a woman releases adrenaline she cannot release oxytocin, the main hormone involved in childbirth, which can make labour longer and more difficult.”

“We have to reconsider the political correctness of the couple giving birth together; it’s not necessarily the best way.”

Duncan Fisher, chief executive of the website Dad.Info, will oppose the motion that “Birth is no place for a father”.

“Of course, not all men are nervous and a lot of women would be even more nervous without their partner there,” he said. “Mothers want them there because it is not home.”

Professor Nolan added that the presence of a caring partner in the labour ward could be valuable to women, especially if shortages of staff meant that no midwives could provide continuous care and support during and after birth.

A poll of 3,500 new mothers for the RCM this week found that one in three were left alone and worried during labour or shortly after giving birth on the NHS.

Andy Burnham, the Health Secretary, said this week that he intends to reform the system of hospital funding to take account of patients’ satisfaction rates, starting with maternity care.

Andrew Lansley, the Shadow Health Secretary is due to announce Conservative policies today which will include “drawing in the whole family around the time of birth” and improving antenatal care. “We often do not involve the father and grandparents as much as they and the mothers would like,” a Tory spokesman said.

Cathy Warwick, the RCM’s General Secretary, commented: “We support a mother’s right to choose her birth partner during labour. There is no evidence base or research, of which we are aware, to suggest that a father’s presence impedes and interferes with the mother’s birth. We will welcome a healthy discussion of these issues during the debate at the conference.”

(Written November 2009)

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