Should New Dads Be Allowed to Stay Overnight in Hospital? England Struggles With Answer

dad sleep-over

For most American fathers, it’s a no-brainer: you stay with your wife in the hospital the night your kid is born. Usually it means pushing a couple of chairs together to stretch out or sleeping sitting up. But across the pond, England has had a long-standing struggle with new dads and their desires to be involved in their children’s first nights.

For example, a new father from Dunstall, England was sent home from Samuel Johnson Community Hospital because the hospital says it doesn’t have the facilities to accommodate fathers overnight. The dad, Gareth Howes, insisted that he merely wanted to sleep at his wife’s bedside but was still denied.

“I had to leave my wife and newborn son who I was so excited to hold and bond with during his first hours,” Howes told The Burton Mail. “It was very surprising. I got home and was furious. How can this still happen in this day and age?”

Rules are rules, the hospital answered; New fathers are allowed a 12 hour window to spend with their wives and new babies, from 8am to 8pm. After that, dads are turned away to go home. Or, as I’m guessing some dads may do, sleep in the parking lot.

The policy doesn’t just apply to Samuel Johnson Community Hospital’s “small midwife-led maternity unit,” and not everyone thinks it’s a bad idea. Laura Perrins, writer for The Telegraph, wrote a piece in May about this very topic. Her opinion? “Only a bloke could think this is a good idea.” Well, I never.

Her feelings are based on English Labour Party’s policy review chief, Jon Cruddas, who had mentioned in May that the Labour party encourages hospitals to allow new dads to spend the night with their wives, and is looking into offering new fathers paid leave for antenatal classes during their wives’ pregnancies.

Quoth Perrins:

Now this bloke Cruddas may be some genius policy wonk but I know he has never and will never give birth. So he will never have an episiotomy, or a third degree tear, or leaking nipples, or leaking from other parts of ones body. Now we have to do this parade in front of every man and his dog not just during the day but at night too, and have some strange man snoring on a chair next to us. Cheers Cruddas.

Comments on Perrins’ article vary from agreement to disgust from both mums (that’s “moms” to us yanks) and dads – further evidence that England can’t decide on a policy.

There was no accompanying photo along with Perrins’ quote in The Telegraph, but 8BitDad has it on good authority that Perrins was flipping the double-bird as she said it.

A program, however, was launched in 2010 in the Bath region called “Partners Staying Overnight,” with Royal United Hospital being the biggest name to take on the initiative.

In 2011, we mentioned that a midwife manual entitled “Reaching Out: Involving Fathers in Maternity Care,” was released by the Royal College of Midwives, the Department of Health, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Fatherhood Institute. In November of 2012, University Hospital of Hartlepool started allowing new dads to spend the first night with their wives and babies. England’s National Health Service is also considering putting in double beds in maternity wards for dads. But you can find this issue brewing in earlier years – England’s Fatherhood Institute has reported on programs aimed at fathers sleeping at the hospital as early as 2002.

In 2008, The Fatherhood Institute also published a survey caled “The Dad Deficit: The Missing Piece in the Maternity Jigsaw” (PDF) where they reported (among other things):

  • 70% of men and women agree that dads should be able to stay overnight with their partner in hospital when their baby is born.
  • 79% agree that dads should be encouraged to stay overnight with their partner in hospital when their baby is born.

Clearly, England has been struggling with involving fathers in the birthing process for years, but making progress.

Fathers – spoiler alert – want to be involved with their babies lives. And no longer are new dads hanging around the hospital waiting room with cigars for family members. Most dads want to be in the delivery room for their childrens’ births – and no matter the comfort and conditions, be in the room overnight when their children are born. Most dads would say that they don’t need a bed – a bare minimum recliner would do.

Hopefully England will hear the call of its fathers and continue to expand overnight hospital services for new dads.

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Author: Zach Rosenberg View all posts by
is married and has one son. He's a gamer and world-class unicorn wrangler. You should follow him on Instagram. You can also find his writing on The Good Men Project and The Huffington Post, and HLN.
  • Kevin A

    I guess i was pretty lucky that my wife’s (Canadian) maternity room came with a cushioned window bench for me and my cooler bag full of sandwiches and snacks. It was like camping! I loved it.
    Sandwiches were for me, the hospital gave me a nice bed but they didn’t feed me. We shared the snacks.
    Oh and total medical bill for maternity care: 20 bucks for parking, about 6 bucks for coffee

    • Kevin A

      I should clarify that I wasn’t just sitting around eating beef jerky. I think our experience shows why it’s good for dads to be in the maternity room. I’m the one who shadowed the pediatricians, logging birth weights and preparing to absorb the blow of any bad news. I’m the one they taught to bathe a newborn. I learned how to change a diaper on those first couple meconium poos; no diaper that followed ever seemed as bad (that’s mostly true) I stood right next to the lactation consultant so I could see it from her perspective, which saved our butts at home when my wife had a lot of trouble. I’m the one who took notes on the timing of every important little thing, a little handscratched agenda that my wife still looks at lovingly.

      • I think my favorite part of staying overnight was doing what you said – bathing my son for the first time, doing diaper changes, etc. Because mom’s laid-out (and uh, torn-open), so she’s in no mood to learn stuff like swaddling, diapering and bathing. So I was happy to be the one to say “don’t worry, rest” while we were there.

        • Kevin A

          Learning these things together seems to me like a key step in making sure new dads feel like a competent equal parent rather than an uneducated outsider

      • Jack Parkin

        A bit late to this party, but:
        I had to say loved reading this. I did the exact same thing as you and Zach. I absorbed everything I could, even provided some humour for the nurses when I practically dove to the floor when my son almost sprayed poop all over me. I also saved the nurses a lot of time by refilling my wife’s water pitcher, refilling her ice pack (she had a c-section) and helping her in and out of bed. It’s my opinion that nurses are training proffesionals and shouldn’t be a maid service if there is a capable family member that can help.
        For our third child, the hospital had actually upgraded their recliners for couches that turned into a nearly comfortable bed.
        I would have been beside myself if I wasn’t able to stay!

  • Roberto Matus

    Awful policy.

    “Let’s just keep this thing being a mum’s club”.

  • whatever

    Zach, what you are missing, what Perrins is assuming, is that the standard procedure for the NHS to place new mothers in a shared ward, not give them the private rooms that are probably common in the US that enable the father to stay with his wife and new child. (I loved that experience.)

    So if Perrins assumption is that of course women in the the care of the NHS will not get a private room, it does seem likely this is caused by the UK’s National Heath Service, and may be a possible future for a US with a single payer healthplan or Obamacare.

    FWIW, I would very much like to see a single payer plan take over in the US, but if it does, we may see bizarre cost cutting measures like this….

    • Kevin A

      We have universal healthcare in Canada. Private maternity rooms are a paid option, often covered by one’s company health plan, but its only a hundred and change, so it’s an easy choice. But even in the shared rooms, I’ve never heard of a dad being kicked out. Some of my relatives have stayed next to their wives all night in a shared room with the curtain drawn. If a woman is having post-birth complications, she’s usually moved out of the shared rooms anyway.
      My wife’s maternity room was bigger than most hotel rooms I’ve ever stayed in.

      • In the wards, you can have several women in a single room. Yuck. I just…no.

      • whatever

        Thanks. I clearly have no knowledge of what is common maternity or hospital practices in England, Canada, or even the US.

        Regardless, Perrins’ assumption is still that women go to a ward shared by many mothers.

        I can’t help but picture that in terms of 1930s or 1940s war torn England, or perhaps something from the Victorian era.

        It is interesting she doesn’t recognize her assumption is “merely” an assumption and that she might be able to fight that and gain a win/win for mothers and fathers (that is, get private rooms to be a paid option.)

        (My wife’s maternity rooms were the size of a small bedroom, smaller than any hotel room I’ve ever been in, but they were actually very pleasant and had a “sleeper” chair that pulled out and reclined and let me sleep much of the night or rest with my daughter. (Alta Bates, Berkeley)

        • Kevin A

          I’m not sure whether to read your first paragraph as a defensive reaction or not. My post was purely informational; if it got your back up, that wasn’t my intent. If I read it wrong, please disregard.

          • whatever

            I can see how it might come off that way, but I was truly just admitting my ignorance and thanking you for relating your experience.

    • This is a very true point – and I actually had considered this while writing the article and literally (or some would I’m sure say “conveniently”) forgot to put it in.

    • chickadee

      Some of the comments on Perrins’ article were from women who had needed their husbands’ presences in the ward after childbirth because there weren’t enough staff (in some cases) to help and support the post-partum women. Me, I’d prefer for the main source of discomfort to be someone’s husband snoring.

      With my first, I had a semi-private room because they were renovating the Women’s Wing. Our husbands both stayed, and neither of us were disturbed. In fact, both husbands kept showing each other their new babies, which was really cute.

  • Designer Daddy

    By Perrin’s logic — that the women don’t want men around seeing them all post-ickiness — a lesbian partner would be allowed because she’s got the same bits as the preggy mum. So maybe dads can sneak in in drag. I hear those Brits are always up for a man-in-a-dress gag.

  • Joemonroe

    The existence of this article makes me sick to my stomach. Although, if you force me to go home and watch Game of Thrones instead I guess I have no choice but to comply? In all seriousness if my wife wouldn’t want me there (which based on our last birth is not the case) all she has to do is ask. I’ll be hurt and even a little upset but her physical an mental health is what is important at that time.

  • I really appreciated having my husband in the room with me for the 3 nights I spent in recovery. I’d had a c-section, so the help was very needed. However, I think the main difference is that I had a private recovery room. The situation in the UK seems to be that most women are moved into a recovery ward after giving birth, where everyone who’s had a baby is dumped into the same room, with perhaps not even as much as a curtain between them. That sounds perfectly miserable to me, even without other women’s husbands there, but with other women’s husbands there…I get what Perrin is saying. It would be deeply uncomfortable to be surrounded by strangers in the recovery ward–husbands and any other family and friends as well. I barely wore any clothes at all during recovery, between the ongoing leaking fluids and the continuous breastfeeding. In a hospital with private rooms, which is the standard here, by all means, husbands should be allowed in. But in a recovery ward…that’s a whole different animal. It sounds frightful to me all the way around. I’d probably have a home birth if I could, even without husbands staying overnight.

    • Joemonroe

      oh, good point yah we had a private room as well.

      • Yeah. I mean, I would 100% want my husband there and was completely outraged, too…until I read the part about the maternity wards. And then I was like…oh. Yeah, I wouldn’t want to deal with that either. So for me, it’s not at all about wanting parenting to be a mom’s club. Trust me. It’s much better to have the 100% partnership and support of your spouse. BUT. I completely get why in a maternity ward situation women might be uncomfortable, especially for women who might have to stay a few nights there.

  • Ellipsen

    I had my children in the UK. Maternity wards are the norm/standard. Private rooms are rare and reserved for people with lots of spare cash. Saying that because shared wards (and of course shared bathroom and shower facilities bleugh) are so absolutely hideous and guarantee that any sleep you may have got will be wrecked whenever any baby on the ward cries, they are in very high demand and generally unavailable. I was placed in one when I was readmitted with a post section infection and it was bliss compared to the main ward. There isn’t room between the beds for husbands to be squeezed in tbh, and it’s unpleasant enough as it is. For the privileged its an option

    • As the comments roll in, I do feel like I underplayed the idea that many hospitals in England probably do have wards with many women in it at once. Thanks for reading and for the comment!

  • Tom

    All my children (3) were born in a midwife unit in a major metropolitan public hospital in the USA. I was at each of the births and stayed with my wife until she was discharged. My sister was gracious enough to babysit so I could stay with the second and third child. That was 35, 33, and 30 years ago. It was a private room. For me, it was the only way to begin the journey with each child. I am proud to say, my son has followed in my footsteps just 6 months ago.

  • Georgina

    I’ve had all three of my children in the UK courtesy of the NHS. Each time I was put into the main ward. The private rooms are usually only used by those women who have had complications. I desperately wanted a private room, particularly last year as I was in a bed in a ward that just so happened to be visible from all the way down the bottom of the corridor and I was trying desperately to breastfeed my son who wasn’t very good at it.
    All the beds on the ward have a curtain for privacy, but it does get very very warm and a little claustrophobic.
    Each time i’ve been in the ward with between 3 and 5 other mums, i’ve been the only one breastfeeding their baby and it was horrible having limited privacy when when all the other mums were not going through the same thing.
    I would have loved my husband to have stayed over, and I hate being alone on that first night which is why i’ve desperately tried to be discharged within hours so i can go home to my own bed and my husband. However all of my babies have had some minor problem which has made the hospital keep us in for longer.
    I do understand why husbands aren’t allowed to stay. mostly due to lack of beds and also it is a security risk. NHS hospitals are probably not as well staffed as your hospitals, but then we don’t pay for any of the care we receive.
    In Short: You get what you pay for 🙂

  • My husband legit slept on the floor with his back against the wall when I had my first child with him. Luckily they were prepared for dads in the hospital where we had our second child, they even had cots!

  • Aaaaaaand, yet another reason I don’t live in England.