Crying babies, tired mothers - challenges of the postnatal hospital stay: an interpretive phenomenological study

BMC Pregnancy Childbirth. 2010 May 13;10:21. doi: 10.1186/1471-2393-10-21.


Background: According to an old Swiss proverb, "a new mother lazing in childbed is a blessing to her family". Today mothers rarely enjoy restful days after birth, but enter directly into the challenge of combining baby- and self-care. They often face a combination of infant crying and personal tiredness. Yet, routine postnatal care often lacks effective strategies to alleviate these challenges which can adversely affect family health. We explored how new mothers experience and handle postnatal infant crying and their own tiredness in the context of changing hospital care practices in Switzerland.

Methods: Purposeful sampling was used to enroll 15 mothers of diverse parity and educational backgrounds, all of who had given birth to a full term healthy neonate. Using interpretive phenomenology, we analyzed interview and participant observation data collected during the postnatal hospital stay and at 6 and 12 weeks post birth. This paper reports on the postnatal hospital experience.

Results: Women's personal beliefs about beneficial childcare practices shaped how they cared for their newborn's and their own needs during the early postnatal period in the hospital. These beliefs ranged from an infant-centered approach focused on the infant's development of a basic sense of trust to an approach that balanced the infants' demands with the mother's personal needs. Getting adequate rest was particularly difficult for mothers striving to provide infant-centered care for an unsettled neonate. These mothers suffered from sleep deprivation and severe tiredness unless they were able to leave the baby with health professionals for several hours during the night.

Conclusion: New mothers often need permission to attend to their own needs, as well as practical support with childcare to recover from birth especially when neonates are fussy. To strengthen family health from the earliest stage, postnatal care should establish conditions which enable new mothers to balance the care of their infant with their own needs.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • Attitude to Health
  • Crying / psychology
  • Fatigue / prevention & control
  • Fatigue / psychology*
  • Female
  • Health Services Needs and Demand
  • Humans
  • Infant Care / methods
  • Infant Care / psychology*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Maternal Behavior
  • Mother-Child Relations
  • Mothers / education
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Nurse-Patient Relations
  • Nursing Methodology Research
  • Postnatal Care / methods
  • Postnatal Care / psychology*
  • Puerperal Disorders / prevention & control
  • Puerperal Disorders / psychology*
  • Self Care / methods
  • Self Care / psychology*
  • Social Support
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Switzerland