Natalie Akoorie is a reporter at the NZ Herald based in Hamilton.

Maternity mayhem brings call for limits

Large numbers of supporters at births create headache for staff.
Large numbers of support people are creating havoc at Waikato Hospital's delivery suite. Photo / iStock
Large numbers of support people are creating havoc at Waikato Hospital's delivery suite. Photo / iStock

Vandalism, graffiti, theft and abuse by supporters of women in labour have prompted calls at one hospital delivery suite to limit the number of family members attending a birth.

Large numbers of support people are creating havoc at Waikato Hospital's delivery suite, causing increasing security, safety and privacy concerns, according to charge midwife manager Celeste Pon.

The situation was so dire, she said, that in several instances women in labour had been moved to theatre to get away from the support people, despite not requiring medical intervention.

In one case, 15 members of a family attended a birth and Pon said often the mother-to-be did not know all the people in the room.

Midwives had been threatened and abused, property stolen and equipment vandalised by people loitering in the lounge and hallways.

"Recently the meeting room was tagged, the fish tank had milk poured into it [killing the fish], an artwork donated by a child was ripped off the wall ...

food and wrappers stuffed into the emergency trolley and staff property stolen from the change room."

People spilled out into the hallways and lounged across the floor creating a hazard, while young children were left alone crying or asleep in prams unattended, she said.

"Bored children and adults commandeer the wheelchairs and race around the hallways and threaten the staff when asked to stop."

She said women in labour often walked the corridors but were intimidated by roaming supporters.

Pon said any restrictions, which she acknowledged would be hard to enforce, could also include a ban on smartphones because texting and talking on phones by supporters was off-putting for a woman in labour.

She added that women were entitled to privacy and dignity when in labour.

"It's a very spiritual and joyous time and if that's marred by the shenanigans of [support] people it's disappointing."

In an email from the New Zealand College of Midwives' Waikato chairwoman, Karen Barnes, to the region's lead maternity carers, she said the situation was affecting midwives' ability to work safely and the maintenance of expensive equipment that had to be available in emergency situations.

So far the feedback from midwives was unanimously in favour of restrictions.

Other departments at Waikato Hospital, including intensive care and the newborn intensive care unit, limit visitors to two at a time.

However at Auckland, North Shore, Waitakere, Tauranga, Rotorua, Palmerston North, Wellington and Christchurch Women's hospitals, there was no restriction on supporters in delivery suites.

College midwifery adviser Alison Eddy said ideally women would be allowed as many supporters in labour as they wanted.

"Women should be able to have who they chose to support them when they're having a baby because it's an emotional, family, community, cultural, social event for women, not just giving birth."

Eddy said Maori whanau were more likely to attend a birth in larger numbers.

"It's a whanau-based culture so it's about [welcoming] that baby into that family, so it's very sad the DHB isn't able to accommodate that."

- NZ Herald

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