What to expect on the postnatal hospital ward
Being on a postnatal ward can have its comedy moments.... Read on for our top survival tips for spending time in hospital after birth.
While life on the hospital ward has its downsides (24/7 activity, crying babies, hospital food), there are benefits too (midwives on call 24/7, lots of new mums to compare notes with, dinner in bed). And it’s not uncommon for new mums to need a few extra days before they go home. So, how to make the best of life when you’re a reluctant guest on the postnatal ward?
The hospital ward
Bays on the postnatal hpspital ward are surprisingly different. The two cubicles by the window are The Ritz, bathed in natural light, with a whiff of fresh air and unrivalled views over the car park. The next two are a solid Premier Inn, and the ones at the back – let’s just say they wouldn’t do well on TripAdvisor. And boy, is it hot.
What To Pack Cotton pyjama bottoms and a strappy vest – don’t bring your snuggly trackie bottoms. An extra pillow from home is a little luxury, and don’t forget flip-flops – hospital floors are no fun in bare feet.
Hospital Hack If you’re in for a few days and put in one of the pokey bays at the back, there’s no harm in asking to be moved next to a window if a cubicle becomes free.
If you like eating aeroplane food at 11am and 5pm, you’re in luck! Also, not having to think about cooking is a luxury – and hospital kitchens have a tendency to knock out a lot of ice cream and custard.
What to pack Snacks from naughty to nice, sweet to savoury, to pop in your beside locker so you can eat when you want to. Fruit is welcome when you want to freshen up a bit.
Hospital Hack The dinner lady is your new best friend. Extra custard, anyone?
Getting some sleep
Labour is rather tiring (something newborns refuse to acknowledge) and postnatal wards aren’t the best places to catch up on sleep, what with bing-bonging alarms, early drug rounds, check-ups and visitors desperate to meet your new bundle. But it is possible to get some shut-eye – honest! The quietest times fall right after visiting time, rather than in the wee small hours when all the babies seem to fancy a bit of competitive wailing.
What to pack Earplugs may be a bit of a no-no when you’re listening out for newborn cries, but ambient sound apps or post-birth hypnotherapy audio scripts can help you relax and even drop off to sleep when the baby’s catching some Zs.
Hospital Hack Ask all but the most important visitors to wait till you’re home, and sleep as much as you can. If you’re wide awake at 3am, it’s actually a pretty good time to grab a shower.
If your ward has a bath, a soak can soothe aching limbs and give you much-deserved time alone. Get outside for a breath of fresh air – no one cares if you’re in jim-jams and Minion slippers. A cup of tea in the hospital café feels like a day out, especially if you can take your baby and be seriously cooed over. And you might not be feeling sociable, but even a quick chat to other mums and a peek at their babies is the best pick-me-up going.
What to pack Bring your whole bathroom cabinet, including tweezers and nail varnish remover. If you’re in for more than 24 hours, you’ll be dying to pluck errant eyebrow hairs and wipe off chipped toenail varnish.
Hospital Hack Go for a wander: find the quietest bathroom, the bench in the courtyard and the nice lady in the café who’ll put extra marshmallows on your hot chocolate.
A world of confusion
Unsurprisingly, midwives can forget that to the uninitiated, all the acronyms, tech and practices of the postnatal ward are a mystery to new mums. The cribs, for example, are far more high-tech than your average Moses basket. Many have a key – lock it and an alarm will sound if anyone tries to lift the baby out. Then there are the acronyms: SCBU stands for Special Care Baby Unit and NICU is the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Things you might not have been expecting include being issued with natty anti-DVT stockings and being given a (pretty painless) daily injection in the tummy to ward off clotting.
What to pack A dressing gown is handy for retaining one’s modesty during check-ups
Hospital Hack Warn your other half about the alarmed cribs or you can guarantee he’ll arrive for a visit while you’re in the loo, proudly scoop his newborn into his arms and set the sirens off. Awkward.
If you’re breastfeeding, one of the upsides to a prolonged hospital stay is more help getting to grips with it. Midwives and maternity assistants often have different approaches, which can be confusing, but give all the advice a whirl and you’ll find what works best for you.
What to pack Make sure you’ve got breast pads, a couple of soft, comfortable nursing bras you can sleep in, and nursing tops. Nipple balm and shields can be useful, too.
Hospital Hack It’s impossible to predict what your milk supply will be like, but it’s worth bringing a breast pump in case you have more milk than your baby wants and there’s a queue for the hospital’s equipment.
Some hospitals will offer private rooms for varying rates, depending on the facilities. The problem, of course, is that you won’t know when you’ll need one or how long for, so they can’t be booked in advance, and if you’re admitted at a busy time, you may not get one. However, while it’s ace to have privacy, especially if you had a long or tricky labour, you can feel a bit sidelined in a private room and don’t have the ready supply of new mums to chat to.
What to pack A phone loaded up with games, TV shows, podcasts – and don’t forget your charger.
Hospital Hack Pressing the midwife call button can feel a bit rude, but don’t feel shy about summoning help when you need it.
Our undercover midwife on life on the ward...
‘There are many reasons why you may need to stay in hospital longer than you’d hoped. Some women need extra help establishing feeding, some babies need observation, and sometimes they pick up infections in labour that require antibiotics. ‘It can feel scary, but be assured that you’re in the best place – so take advantage of it! We have a lot to do, but never be afraid to ask us anything. We love helping people – that’s why we do our job. There’s nothing we haven’t seen, so please don’t feel embarrassed or silly.’ ‘We know it’s frustrating waiting to see a midwife – we’d love to get around the ward quicker if we could – but try to be patient; we’re trying to deal with everyone, and we’re drowning in paperwork too.’ ‘Thank you cards mean so much, and if you would like to get the midwives a present, you can’t go wrong with a tub of chocolates – and a pack of black pens for filling in our forms, because we’re always running out of pens!’