The Mumsnet Campaign for Better Postnatal Care: what are we doing and why are we doing it?

Newborn

In the past 17 years Mumsnet has hosted hundreds of thousands of discussion threads about anything and everything that interests, concerns or amuses Mumsnet users. Certain topics come to the forefront for us here at MNHQ because they’re consistently on our users' minds.

One of those topics is the kind of healthcare women get, at home or in hospital, after they've had a baby. Known as 'postnatal care', this encompasses everything from support for breast or bottle feeding and input on mental health and wellbeing, to looking after a woman's caesarean scar or giving her physio after a difficult birth.

Much postnatal care in the NHS in the UK is good, according to both Mumsnet's own survey (see here for more details) and feedback from bodies like the Care Quality Commission. Many thousands of midwives, doctors, nurses, health visitors and specialists up and down the country contribute their skill and hard work to helping parents and new babies in the tricky early months – and of course, we all know that the NHS is having to stretch its limited resources a long way at the moment. But it seemed to us that, too often, we see threads on Mumsnet in which women talk about bad experiences in the postnatal period. Not the majority of new mums – but a significant minority of them.

What will the campaign be doing?

Mumsnet is launching a major new campaign called 'Better Postnatal Care: Aftercare, not Afterthought'. We will work with parents, professional representatives and healthcare bodies to bring focus to a service that we think has been neglected for too long: it's often called the 'Cinderella' of maternal health services, with good reason. According to the Royal College of Midwives, 'on average in England only 8.5% of a woman's total maternity care budget is spent on her postnatal care.'

Women told us about being hungry and thirsty; about finding it hard to get painkillers; and about how difficult it is to get peace, quiet, rest and sleep on a multi-bed ward.

First off, we're going to be focusing on women's experiences in hospitals immediately after having their babies. Most women in our survey stayed on the postnatal ward or another inpatient ward for at least 12 hours (and usually more) after the birth, and many of you had thoughts about how these wards could be improved.

In the future, the campaign will explore lots of other issues that are important in postnatal care, such as: maternal mental health; how to support women's choices about how they feed their babies; and what sort of care is given to women who have had birth injuries.

Wherever possible, Mumsnet will seek input from Royal Colleges, hospital trusts, healthcare professionals and NHS England, whose Maternity Pioneer partners are thinking about ways to improve maternity care across the board. We want to find out who's getting this right, and see if there are ways to scale up examples of good practice and share learnings.

NHS organisation is really complex these days, with different leadership in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and with individual trusts, groups of trusts and commissioning bodies making different choices about how to prioritise. As the campaign develops, we hope to highlight really useful, practical ways to improve postnatal care so that's it's brilliant for every woman – wherever she lives and whatever her circumstances.

Lots of our campaign is based on findings from a big survey we did of women who had given birth in the UK recently. You can find out more about our survey results here. Our research seems to show that for about one-quarter of new mums, their experiences of postnatal care are really awful – and in many of those cases, they say it contributed to a real decline in their mental health and/or physical wellbeing.