Women need longer than six weeks to recover from childbirth, says Salford expert

Thursday 16 February 2012
Dr Julie Wray
A Salford academic’s research has revealed that it takes a year to recover from childbirth – as opposed to the official view of six weeks – and significant dissatisfaction amongst new mothers with postnatal services.

Dr Julie Wray observed practice on two maternity wards in Salford and Trafford for her PhD research into the care and recovery of women after childbirth. She also interviewed women two to three weeks, three months and six to seven months after they had given birth to gain a unique insight into postnatal recovery.

The women considered the professional view of recovery from childbirth at six weeks to be a fantasy, and that a year was a more realistic timeframe. The six week check was disappointing because most did not receive a physical examination or it did not confirm either way whether their bodies had reverted to ‘normal’.

Hospital wards were found to have a negative impact on women’s ability to recover, recoup and celebrate the birth of their child. The hot, busy, noisy atmosphere and stream of visitors was not conducive to recovery, nor were the unfamiliar rules, regulations and routines. Ironically the public nature of recovery could actually make women feel trapped and alone.

In the past women were shown how to perform tasks such as baby bathing and could only go home if they demonstrated competency. However, a lack of support in baby care and handling skills was expressed with many of the women feeling they were “left to get on with it”, and low staffing levels meant that women were reluctant to ask for help.

Staff shortages meant that workloads and demands on individuals were high. Midwives also felt frustrated that too much time was spent on paperwork rather than the hands-on care that motivated them to go into the profession.

Dr Wray said: “The research shows that more realistic and woman-friendly postnatal services are needed. Women feel that it takes much longer than six weeks to recover and they should be supported beyond the current six to eight weeks after birth.

“However, government funding cuts and a national shortage of midwives means that postnatal services will only face further challenges. The midwifery profession must raise the status of postnatal care as any further erosion can only be bad for women and their children.” 

Dr Julie Wray, ‘Bouncing Back? An ethnographic study exploring the context of care and recovery after birth through the experiences and voices of mothers’ 2011

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