New mothers desperately need more support

Article written by Clare Foges and published in UK The Times, May 13


The lack of support for parents in the early years matters not only in terms of maternal mental health but in how the next generation is raised.

The government’s Social Mobility Commission has found that by the age of three, children from rich and poor backgrounds have shockingly different cognitive outcomes. By their fifth birthday, children’s brains will already be 90 per cent developed. We know that the first years are critical to a child’s chances in life — and yet several recent news stories suggest that in many British families, something is going wrong with early years parenting.

We could start by offering women a longer stay in hospital after childbirth.

Decades ago new mothers recovered for several days on the ward. Britain was dotted with “lying in” hospitals in which new mothers could convalesce and make friends, preparing for the challenges of motherhood. Now we have, on average, the shortest maternity stays of any developed nation; shorter than nations such as Liberia, Bangladesh and Ghana.

Just think what a golden opportunity it would be if we encouraged women to stay for longer. It would not only be a chance to rest, heal and talk to other mothers, but to impart some information that many aren’t currently getting, from breastfeeding to basic routines.

To some these suggestions may sound the height of indulgence; the state cosseting those who have made the decision to have a child. Yet failing to support parents is a woefully false economy. As a World Bank report has argued, “If a child gets the healthcare, nutrition, affection, stimulation and education that she needs — the gains she makes in those early years are hers for life.” The choice is clear: either we give much more support to families in those early years — or we will all pay for poor parenting in the end.

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