According to a new study, mums with babies who cry persistently and wake frequently during the night, are turning to our over-stretched Hospital Emergency Departments for help.
The study by the Jean Hailes Research Unit at Monash University with the University of Melbourne, found that mothers whose babies had unsettled behaviour were more likely to attend a hospital emergency department.
The study, published in the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, found parents with persistently waking and crying babies used multiple health services in the first four months after their baby’s birth. Some mothers used up to eight different services.
Dr Sonia McCallum, lead author and Research Fellow at the Jean Hailes Research Unit, says it’s concerning that parents are turning to emergency departments.
“These families need to be supported by services such as early parenting services that offer specialised skills to manage unsettled behaviour,” said Dr McCallum.
Professor Jane Fisher, the Jean Hailes Professor of Women’s Mental Health at Monash University says the use of overburdened hospital emergency departments by parents with unsettled babies is an issue that needs serious consideration.
“Emergency departments can probably reassure a parent that their baby is well, but they are not equipped with the skills to train people in soothing and settling strategies,” said Professor Fisher.
“Emergency departments are highly skilled and therefore expensive services and having parents attend there for something best treated in the primary healthcare setting is probably not a good use of the health dollar either.”
The study also included questions on maternal mental health. Importantly the research found while women with mental health problems were more frequent users of mental health services, their mental condition did not influence their use of emergency department services.
“It was a baby’s unsettled behaviour – not the mother’s mental health – that was the driver for women to go to an emergency department,” said Professor Fisher.
Dr McCallum says more focus needs to be placed on teaching new parents practical, evidence-based strategies to deal with unsettled behaviour. These include showing parents how to securely wrap a baby, recognising an infant’s tired cues, and learning how to settle a baby into bed while they are awake.
“I think this education needs to be delivered within the first four to six weeks of a baby’s birth. And it needs to be delivered in the first instance by maternal child health practitioners, those working in general practice settings, and paediatricians because these are the places families first go to with this problem,” said Dr McCallum.
“We need effective early interventions for families to teach them how to manage unsettled infant behaviour – so they are not having to go to hospital emergency departments.”
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