Getting a good night’s rest!

Felicity Callon, Senior Project Officer for Father-Inclusive Practice, explores how Small Steps Big Changes has supported Nottingham’s maternity units to provide a welcoming space for dads and partners.

Felicity Callon

As part of our systems-change agenda in Nottingham, Small Steps Big Changes have been working hard to listen to and empower dads.

Working with the midwifery team at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust and building on their experience of using a small number of recliner chairs donated privately to the maternity unit 16 months previously, SSBC have supported the purchase of a further 113 recliner chairs.

We were pleased to be able to support the purchase of recliner chairs as midwifery colleagues advised us that this would make the most practical difference to being able to involve dads at the earliest stage. They rarely have the peer support that new mums have and often feel that most of the information available is directed towards the baby’s mother. At the same time, they still experience the same anxieties and challenges of becoming a parent, all of this lends itself to feelings of exclusion for many dads. With this project, SSBC’s aim was clear: to increase opportunities for father inclusive practice and broader system change by responding to dad’s needs and involving them during labour and the birth of their baby.

In addition, feedback from the maternity teams, cited a partner/dad not being permitted to stay overnight as exacerbating mum’s distress and being a contributory factor in subsequent mental health issues experienced by both parents.

Without a place to rest, some dads/partners felt discouraged to stay and as a result, felt less involved. Along with midwifery colleagues, we wished to create a universal offer of a recliner chair for partners/dads of women receiving maternity care to stay overnight, creating a welcoming family-friendly environment. This would enable partners and new dads to be involved in every aspect of caring for their new baby and to offer much needed support for mum at a time when she might be feeling very tired and anxious.

As well as providing practical support for partners and fathers, midwifery colleagues also thought that the recliner chairs would support an improvement in wider health outcomes for mums, fathers/partners, and their babies.

Fathers/partners are key supporters for new mums when starting breastfeeding and having them available to support them by being able to stay with them, ensures that mums have good support right from the birth of their baby. In addition, having a baby can often be a time when fathers/partners and mums are wanting to stop smoking. By having the family present in the hospital, this can facilitate early conversations about the support available and how families can access this.

The recliner chairs allow fathers/partners to stay with their partners both during labour and after baby’s arrival, particularly where mother and/or baby need medical support and require a longer stay in hospital. This gives both parents time to bond with baby.

Initially some staff were concerned about the implications of having extra people on the wards and whether this would increase the number of people they had to support. But despite these initial anxieties, staff have quickly grown to love the chairs and can see how they have improved patient experience, and helped support their practice, with dads being able to help mums meet the physical demands of having a baby.

Feedback from families who have used the chairs has all been positive, with dads/partners reporting that having the chairs has not only allowed them to stay with their family but also showed them that they were a valued part of the labour and birth experience. Mothers reported that having their partners stay with them made them feel safer and happier and definitely helped with post-birth recovery.

This tangible offer has made so much difference to people’s lives and has opened the doors to father-inclusive practice in our local NHS trust by winning the hearts and minds of staff and families. Seeing the recliner chairs in situ and talking to families has made this project come to life for me, It’s been an honour to see a project reach its end goal and more!

As with any project, there has been key learning which we have presented to NUH so that there can be further improvements to the use of the recliner chairs. These recommendations include a short video or visual on how to use the chairs for fathers/partners and ongoing briefings for hospital-based maternity colleagues so that there is a clear understanding of the purpose of the chairs and how these could be best used by fathers/partners. In additional, feedback from parents and maternity staff will be needed to build a case for investment in the future as the chairs need to be replaced.

We are delighted to have had an initial request for further information from other health colleagues who are looking to replicate Nottingham's recliner chair project. We will be sharing the learning from the project to date and hoping that this work will be expanded so that other fathers/partners and new mothers will benefit from this resource.

About A Better Start

A Better Start is a ten-year (2015-2025), £215 million programme set-up by The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK.

Five A Better Start partnerships based in Blackpool, Bradford, Lambeth, Nottingham and Southend are supporting families to give their babies and very young children the best possible start in life. Working with local parents, the A Better Start partnerships are developing and testing ways to improve their children’s diet and nutrition, social and emotional development, and speech, language and communication.

The work of the programme is grounded in scientific evidence and research. A Better Start is place-based and enabling systems change. It aims to improve the way that organisations work together and with families to shift attitudes and spending towards preventing problems that can start in early life. It is one of five major programmes set up by The National Lottery Community Fund to test and learn from new approaches to designing services which aim to make people’s lives healthier and happier

The National Children’s Bureau is coordinating an ambitious programme of shared learning for A Better Start, disseminating the partnerships’ experiences in creating innovative services far and wide, so that others working in early childhood development or place-based systems change can benefit.

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Visit the A Better Start website to find out more.