Hundreds of new mothers are missing out on skin-to-skin contact with newborns
Many mothers giving birth at hospitals in the region are missing out on important skin-to-skin bonding time with their newborns, according to NHS statistics.
Immediate skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby has “lasting benefits” for both, according to experts, including protecting babies from infection and encouraging them to breastfeed.
But a quarter of mothers – 365 in total – at Ipswich Hospital missed out on the important bonding time last year.
In 2017-18, 1,590 mothers gave birth at the hospital and Ipswich Hospital NHS Trust recorded data for 1,460 mothers, excluding those who had premature babies born before 37 weeks.
In total, 75% had skin-to-skin contact with their babies within an hour of delivery, which was below the national average of 81%.
At Colchester Hospital, 21% of mothers did not have skin-to-skin contact with their babies within an hour of delivery, which also fell slightly below the national average.
The figures at West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds for skin-to-skin contact last year were above the national average – at 84%.
The Mid-Essex Hospital Services NHS Trust was also higher than the national average, with 84% of mothers experiencing skin-to-skin contact with their babies with the first hour of delivery last year.
The Royal College of Midwives said that maternity wards should “make every possible effort for all babies to have skin-to-skin contact with their mothers within one hour of birth”.
The process involves putting the newborn baby on its mother’s bare chest and covering both with a warm blanket. This encourages the baby’s natural instinct to breastfeed.
The NHS figures also revealed the number of newborn babies who did not get a first feed of breast milk.
The first breastfeed contains colostrum, nicknamed “liquid gold” because of its numerous health benefits and protective effects.
At Colchester Hospital, 73% of babies had maternal or donor breast milk for their first feed, below the national average of 74%.
A total of 76% of babies at Ipswich Hospital had maternal or donor breast milk for their first feed, which was slightly higher than the national average.
It was a similar picture at both West Suffolk Hospital and Mid-Essex, with 76% of babies getting maternal or donor breast milk for their first feed.
Jane Scattergood, midwifery advisor at Public Health England, said: “Skin-to-skin contact directly after birth has lasting benefits for both mother and baby.
“It also supports breastfeeding, which helps give babies the best nutritional start in life.
“We know some mothers may need support and encouragement to help them start and continue with breastfeeding.
“That’s why we provide trusted advice to parents through our Start4Life campaign resources, and to midwives and health visitors through professional guidance.”
West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust reaction
Lynne Saunders, head of midwifery at West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We are proud to have supported 76% of our new mothers in 2017-18 to breastfeed in their first feed - a figure that is above the national average.
“We help our parents understand that breastfeeding increases their baby’s protection against a range of health issues and has health benefits for both mother and child.
“However, some of our mothers choose formula feeding. There are many reasons for this; some mothers have complications or practical reasons which need to be taken into account.
“For example, some may be on medication which means they cannot breastfeed their baby for health reasons. Whatever the situation, we support our new mothers to make the right choice for both her and her newborn.
“At the end of 2017 we received the internationally recognised Baby Friendly Award Level Three set up by Unicef (United Nations Children’s Fund) and the WHO (World Health Organisation) for our care of new mothers, and breastfeeding support.
“We also understand the importance of skin to skin contact for mothers and babies, and in our recent Baby Friendly annual audit 97.3% of mothers surveyed had held their baby in skin contact after their birth.
“At such an important time in their lives we want to ensure new mothers feel confident and empowered, and are always looking at ways we can improve and enhance the care our parents receive.”
Ipswich Hospital and Colchester Hospital reaction
Jan Ingle, head of communications for Ipswich and Colchester hospitals, said: “Women are supported in the choices that they make.
“We are very clear with the benefits and advantages of skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding but we have to respect choice.
“What these statistics fail to tell us is why. There could be a number of reasons why it hasn’t taken place.”
Mid-Essex Hospital Services NHS Trust comment
A spokesman for the trust said: “We are pleased that our breastfeeding rates are above the national average, but are always looking at ways we can improve our figures.
“We know that breast milk gives babies the best start in life, and we provide new mothers with all the information to allow them to make an informed choice about feeding their baby.
“To help support breastfeeding at the Trust, we have an Infant Feeding Specialist Midwife who provides expert help and guidance to both mums and midwives.”