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Mothers missing out due to lack of postnatal care services

ABU DHABI // The health and welfare of new mothers and their babies are being neglected because essential postnatal care and attention to their overall wellbeing are not available, specialists say.

Expatriate mothers in particular lack support at a critical time in their child’s development, as their families are usually overseas.

Dr Muhaj Al Shaikhli, consultant gynaecologist at Burjeel Hospital, said some services were offered in Dubai but not generally in other areas.

“A new mother needs support from healthcare providers due to the hormonal, physical and psychological changes in pregnancy and in the postpartum period,” Dr Al Shaikhli said.

“I don’t see it happening much. We are hoping to do this in the hospital. We have started with new mothers suffering from back pain but I hope we will improve this.

“Unfortunately, in the postpartum period, which lasts from birth to six weeks after, we don’t contact the patient. We don’t have the facilities to follow up at home.”

Mothers may need training in how to take care of their infants and how to feed them, she said.

The World Health Organisation says “the postnatal period is a critical phase in the lives of mothers and newborn babies. Most maternal and infant deaths occur during this time, yet it is the most neglected period for provision of quality care”.

“Holistic medicine” combines conventional and alternative therapies and focuses on the person’s body, mind and spirit.

A mix of dietary education, psychotherapy, spiritual guidance, acupuncture, massage, herbs, surgery and western medication may be prescribed.

“Changes are unique to the mum and baby in this phase,” Dr Al Shaikhli said.

“It’s better to work as a team. Review the treatment and take it case by case.”

American D K, 36, has a problem with a spinal disc, which her pregnancy aggravated.

“New mothers in the UAE do not get any holistic treatment after delivery. There is nothing here, nor is there anything like these practices in the region,” she said.

“This is desperately needed because both baby and mother go through skeletal changes during delivery and whether or not that gets back into proper shape is really up to luck.

“Also, the holistic part of it means that the mother feels taken care of while she is taking care of the baby during a very hectic time.

“One of the things that holistic treatment can do is have the patient focus on themselves. It also helps to bring stress levels down.”

Cecile De Scally, a pre and postnatal educator at Malaak, a maternity nursing and health centre in Dubai, said: “Hospitals support mums with breastfeeding but we still have a long way to go in terms of postnatal support at home from qualified individuals.”

Ms De Scally, who helps mothers to gain confidence in breastfeeding and establishing healthy routines, said many mothers worried they were doing a bad job.

“In other countries, mothers usually have the full-time support of their families. As many are expats here family visits are sporadic,” she said.

“They need to be able to know where to get the right support and not feel like they are alone. We have found that there is a large gap in postnatal support in the region.”

If Ms De Scally believes a patient is suffering from postnatal depression, she refers her to a doctor.

“We need more education at the prenatal stage,” she said. “I see mothers who have had their babies and they tell me about their sleep problems. In many cases, we could have avoided these challenges if they came to us early on.

“We hope to spread awareness about the importance of prenatal classes so that mums implement healthy habits for their children early on.”

The first hours, days and weeks after childbirth are a dangerous time for both mother and infant, the WHO says. Of the 500,000 women who die each year due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth, most deaths occur during or immediately after childbirth.

The WHO also reported that every year three million infants die in the first week of life, and another 900,000 die in the following three weeks.

WHO says postnatal care is critical for the immediate survival of mother and child and for their futures.

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