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Mums protest at Newham University Hospital over maternity care

PUBLISHED: 15:32 12 March 2019 | UPDATED: 12:15 13 March 2019

Picture: Luke Acton.

Picture: Luke Acton.

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Dozens of mums have gathered outside Newham University Hospital to protest the level of care at its ward for the sickest newborns.

Mums protested outside Newham Hospital to oppose the use of screens to hide mums breastfeeding in the neonatal inensive care unit among other issues with the ward.. Picture: Luke Acton.Mums protested outside Newham Hospital to oppose the use of screens to hide mums breastfeeding in the neonatal inensive care unit among other issues with the ward.. Picture: Luke Acton.

The demonstration on Friday followed a small Twitter storm over the use of screens to hide breastfeeding mothers and feeding babies formula without the mother’s consent at the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

Sian Murray Huynh, who helped organise the group, said: “Right now, it feels like their biggest concern is just to get us to be quiet and stop protesting, stop making noise.”

Barts Health, the trust that runs the hospital, denies that there is any policy to forcibly screen breastfeeding women.

A spokeswoman said that, when screens are used, it is because the mother wants them.

Bianca Parish with her 13-month-old Judah and Gemma Stone with her son Elliot, who is 1. Picture: Luke Acton.Bianca Parish with her 13-month-old Judah and Gemma Stone with her son Elliot, who is 1. Picture: Luke Acton.

Mothers have said that the screens are claustrophobic, can prevent nurses seeing when mothers need help and that they create a stigma around breastfeeding.

It is illegal to prevent or obstruct a woman trying to breastfeed in public — including a hospital.

The problems at the unit came to the fore after a meeting with two mums who experienced the treatment at the NICU with trust staff. The mums at the meeting, Karis White and Carolyn Hounsell, were told the screens are there because of a man in the past complaining about seeing breastfeeding.

The two shared their experiences with a WhatsApps group of 256 Newham mothers.

Protestor Leah Davies. Leah also works in the community as a peer-supporter to help mums trying to breastfeed. Picture: Luke Acton.Protestor Leah Davies. Leah also works in the community as a peer-supporter to help mums trying to breastfeed. Picture: Luke Acton.

“As we started sharing on the group, lots mothers have either had similar issues or others issues with a lack of compassionate care,” said Karis.

She gave birth to her second child, Percy, August last year. He was in the NICU for 24 hours for an issue with blood incompatibility.

“I think that’s one of the reason’s why it’s united everybody, because this is about rights, our right to feed our baby how we want (with our breasts or not) and where we want, especially in hospital.”

Bianca Parish deeply wanted to breastfeed her baby Judah, who is now 13-months-old.

He was in the NICU with a lung infection after being born 17 weeks premature. He still has tubes for oxygen.

“I came in one day to find they had bottle-fed him without my consent, which was really discouraging when you’re trying to breastfeed and it’s hard work because your baby’s on oxygen,” she said.

“We were also told later on that if we wanted him to come home then we should bottle-feed him, so it was quite manipulative.

“You want your baby to come home, that’s the ultimate goal.”

Demonstrators are opposing the use of screen to hide women in the NICU, a lack of communication around formula feeding and what they say is a general lack of compassionate care on the ward. Picture: Luke Acton.Demonstrators are opposing the use of screen to hide women in the NICU, a lack of communication around formula feeding and what they say is a general lack of compassionate care on the ward. Picture: Luke Acton.

It’s an event the Plaistow mother is still trying to process. Tears rolled down her face as she spoke about the experience.

But Bianca has sympathy for the nurses, who have been stretched by widespread NHS cuts.

“They have a really difficult job,” she said. “But it’s not their choice. It’s the mother’s choice.

“To take that out of the mothers hands and make that choice for her is unacceptable even if they don’t have the resources, even if they’re stretched, even if it’s the easier option. Newham Hospital robbed me of my choice.”

Picture: Luke Acton.Picture: Luke Acton.

It’s a question of the extra bond she and her baby could have had if she had breastfed. Despite this experience, Bianca is grateful to the staff there.

“The team that surrounded me at my labour were incredible. They fought so hard to save Judah’s life and I’m forever grateful to them here at Newham for that.”

Pooney Sekar, divisional manager of Women’s and Children’s Health at Newham Hospital said: “We know the vital benefits of breastfeeding and will always support and encourage women who wish to breastfeed their babies.

“Our midwives and neonatal team are absolutely committed to the baby friendly initiative and share the same goals in supporting women with their choices.

“There are, in some circumstances, clinical reasons to offer formula feed in addition to breast milk, however this follows discussion with the neonatal team and with the consent of the mother. Following suggestions and feedback from parents we will ensure that there is clearer signage and relevant information shared about their baby’s feeding requirements.”

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