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Saturday, January 9, 2010

Never again in a public hospital

The Age special report on maternity care drew a range of responses. Here is an edited selection sent to

I GAVE birth to my first child last year in the Frankston Hospital maternity ward as a public patient.

Nothing could have prepared me for my horrible birth experience - ''herding yards'' does not go nearly far enough in describing the way the hospital treats new mothers and babies. The need to minimise expenditure combined with an almost zealous obsession with promoting breastfeeding created an experience so stressful that, for me, resulted in what I call post-traumatic birth disorder - a fear of ever having another child in a public hospital.

My baby was born with fairly high levels of jaundice, which results in a very sleepy baby who is unable to feed well. Bar going under the UV lights, the only means of reducing the jaundice levels is to ''flush'' it out with fluid.

Now that would be fine except for the fact that mothers do not produce milk for at least two days after a natural birth and up to five days after a caesarean. Not once was I offered formula to try to provide extra fluid for my baby. Instead, I was told to breastfeed and express extra fluid in between feeds.

So, in pain after major surgery, with a baby too weak to feed well and not producing milk, I was left struggling for hours to try to provide enough fluid to help my baby.

On day four I was about to be discharged when the attending doctor told me my baby had developed ''nappy rash'' and might need antibiotics. At first the doctor said it would need a cream and I would still go home that day. A few minutes later another doctor said it was a ''severe'' rash and my baby might need oral antibiotics.

Then the head of pediatrics came to look at the rash. The attending nurse said they thought it was a hospital-borne staph infection, which was later confirmed. At this point I was about to have a breakdown from being exhausted, stressed and furious that no one had mentioned the staph to me.

Following this diagnosis, I was discharged from maternity and my four-day-old baby was admitted as a pediatrics patient to be given IV antibiotics. The pediatrics ward is for children only so despite just having the caesarean and still being on painkillers, I was not considered a patient. I had to sleep on a fold-out couch to continue three-hourly breastfeeds but was given no food or additional pain relief.

My baby, still jaundiced and now on antibiotics, was practically incapable of breastfeeding and I was still yet to produce any substantial amount of milk. Despite this, I was again told to try to express extra milk and was not offered formula to assist.

Luckily on the fourth night I started to produce more milk and by day five the jaundice levels were decreasing and the staph clearing up. When I was finally discharged I was producing enough milk so that I could go home.

There is no other way to address these issues than mothers who have caesarean births being given longer stays in hospital or in after-birth centres staffed by midwives at least until they are able to produce sufficient milk to feed their babies. Also, when it is in the best interests of the baby, the mother should be offered formula as a means to assist. LOUISE ANDOLFATTO

Never again in a public hospital

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