A new mother has spoken of her distress after wrongly-imposed Covid rules led to her being separated from her six-week-old baby for almost a week while she received treatment in hospital.
Charlotte Jones, 29, was taken to Princess Royal University hospital in Kent by ambulance last Wednesday, after complications following the birth of her son, Leo. When she arrived, she asked whether she would be able to see her baby, whom she is breastfeeding, while in hospital, but was told it would not be allowed because of the threat of coronavirus. She did not see him until her release six days later.
The restrictions as applied in Jones’s case, appear to contravene official guidance and go against the advice of NHS England, which specifies that mothers and babies should be kept together unless it is absolutely necessary to separate them. Separation at such a critical time can have an adverse impact on the physical and mental health of the mother, baby and wider family, say healthcare professionals and charities.
King’s College NHS foundation trust, which manages the hospital, has admitted that although it is limiting the number of visitors during the pandemic, there is no policy stopping babies to be brought in to be breastfed. The trust has pledged to ensure staff are aware of its policies.
Day 6 of being separated from my 6 week year old baby. Mothers & babies are being separated in hospital, due to Covid restrictions. If care about this, please RT to raise awareness. This is a picture that no Mother should ever have to post! Read more here: https://t.co/NnhYpJVk9d pic.twitter.com/C2zbMW5qKC
— Charlotte Jones (@CharlotteJonsie) November 29, 2020
“There was no information, choice or communication,” said Jones. “When I asked if I could see my baby, it was a flat: ‘No, this is not allowed because of Covid.’ I was in such a bad way mentally. I was worried about milk supply. I’m a first-time mother and I was thinking, ‘What do I need to do?’”
Jones said she was admitted and diagnosed with gastroenteritis and a blood infection as a result of an emergency caesarean section when she delivered Leo.
She also alleged that on her third day in hospital she was given a breast pump but no advice on how to use it. She asked repeatedly to see a specialist healthcare professional about her breastfeeding worries but no one came until Monday, she said, which was six days after she was admitted and the day she was due to be discharged.
Jones said she received excellent treatment but no advice from maternity services. “I needed someone with specialist advice. There was none of that,” she said. “I got more information from people on Instagram. This isn’t about just me. I received so many messages from so many mums going through the same thing, or from those who have been through it.”
The Guardian revealed last month that mothers were being needlessly separated from their babies because of hospital restrictions introduced to stop the spread of Covid. Campaigners have written to health ministers from the four UK nations to demand that mothers and children be kept together as much as possible and that national guidelines are followed. The letter has been signed by more than 2,000 charities, healthcare professionals and parents, but has not yet received a response.
Dr Victoria Thomas, a paediatrician and co-chair of the Hospital Infant Feeding Network, told the Guardian that mothers and babies should be considered as effectively being a single unit. “Separating them has risks for both mental and physical health.”
She added: “Clinical settings may need additional resources or funding to make it feasible to keep parents and children together, but this should be prioritised because of the dangerous impacts of separation.” Thomas said that now, nearly nine months into pandemic measures, all clinical settings should be actively developing pathways and guidelines to avoid unnecessary and harmful separation.
“There are very few medical reasons why a mother would not be allowed to have a baby with her in hospital,” said Dr Helen Mactier, president of the British Association of Perinatal Medicine. “Any separation of mother and baby is likely to impact adversely on breastfeeding, the mental health of the mother, and bonding and attachment with the baby.”
Jones is back at home now with Leo and partner Matt, who had to stop working as a personal trainer while she was in hospital in order to care for their son. “The whole experience was distressing. It added stress that didn’t need to happen. I felt I was alone and I had to work things out on my own.”
She is going to make a formal complaint to the hospital and write to her MP. “It’s not fair what is happening,” she said.
A spokeswoman from King’s College NHS foundation trust said: “We are very sorry to hear that Ms Jones was left distressed during her recent inpatient stay. While we are limiting the number of visitors to wards due to Covid infection risks, there is no policy stipulating that a baby cannot be brought into the hospital to be breastfed … We are working to ensure staff are aware of this policy to avoid any future misunderstandings.”