Viral tweet sparks debate: Should fathers get to sleep overnight in maternity wards?

You've just had a baby. It's incredible, but you are exhausted, in pain and in some cases, recovering from major surgery. Your partner has not gone through the intense physical experience you have, but when the time comes for lights out in the maternity ward, you're the one left to take care of the baby.

This is the scenario UK journalist Annie Ridout described when she took to Twitter to denounce hospital policies that don't allow new fathers and non-birth mothers to spend the night in the maternity ward with their partners and babies.

"My local hospital doesn't allow partners to stay on postnatal ward after their baby has been born. I think this is outrageous—unfair on the mother; unfair on the father, who's being made to feel unimportant. He needs to bond too. Do other UK hospitals have this rule?" Ridout wondered in a tweet that has sparked a lot of conversation online.

A recent poll of new dads in the UK found that only about 17% reported that their hospital facilitated fathers staying overnight after their partner has given birth.

Not only do other hospitals in the UK have this rule, but some stateside do as well. Team Motherly staff members in the United States and Canada have experienced this after giving birth, and can attest to the fact that such policies are very hard on newly formed families, and especially mothers who are recovering from C-sections.

Without the support of a partner, women who are recovering from surgery and cannot get out of bed on their own are forced to call for (and wait for) a nurse's assistance every time their baby cries in the night. Early bonding with dad or the non-birth parent is proven to have benefits for baby and we know that fathers are more engaged and confident in the long when they are involved in their child's early care.

Still, not everyone agrees that partners should be allowed to spend the night on the maternity ward.

On Twitter, many women pointed out that maternity wards are often crowded to begin with, and unless you have a private room a policy that allows partners on the ward could see bed-bound women forced to share space with someone else's partner.

"Might not sound ideal to you, but you have to consider that a) not everyone has a loving partner and b) it's a vulnerable time for women giving birth who may have experienced trauma. Partners also not requiring medical care. Please consider the wider issues outside of 'I want,'" one woman responded to Ridout's tweet.

That is absolutely a great point. We are vulnerable after giving birth and many women may not feel comfortable with someone else's partner being in close proximity to them during this time.

But this conversation also makes us wonder if it isn't time for hospitals to consider new policies that are truly family-centered, whether that family is a single mother and a baby who need privacy or a two-parent family in which the partner wants to be part of those first couple of nights.

Part of the problem here is that in many hospitals, obstetric services are underfunded and maternity wards are overcrowded. When there is hardly enough room for moms and babies, of course hospitals aren't keen to let partners spend the night.

In countries all over the world, obstetrical wards are overwhelmed and overcrowded, and this problem has implications that are even more serious than whether there is space for the parent who didn't give birth, because sometimes, there isn't even space for the women who are. In Washington D.C., for example, some point to the closure of maternity wards as a factor in the city being one of the most dangerous places for Black women to give birth is the United States, and in the UK, some women have reported being turned away from obstetrics wards when they are in labor. In recent years some moms in Sweden have been flown to Finland to give birth as the neonatal units in their home country were full, and a baby there died after a pregnant woman was turned away from an overcrowded hospital.

It's very clear that when nations don't prioritize the care of their youngest citizens and the women who are birthing them, families suffer and dads getting kicked out of the maternity ward is only the tip of the iceberg. We need our care providers to realize that our partners matter, but we need society to realize that we matter, too.

If having your partner stay with you during the first night or two of baby's life is important to you, call your local hospitals and birthing centers before your due date and ask about their policies. In the United States, many hospitals do let partners spend the night.

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