The Princess of Wales has urged new mothers not to forget to look after themselves after giving birth, as she reminisced about her own three babies.
The Princess, in her first solo engagement since the end of royal mourning, said it was too easy for mothers to think “I don’t have time” or “my child comes first” at the expense of their own mental and physical health.
Saying it was instead essential to care for mums in order to give their children the best start in life, she cooed over a series of newborns and premature babies as part of her ongoing work in early years development.
The Princess, whose visit to the Royal Surrey County Hospital overran by at least half an hour after she stopped to speak to hundreds of members of staff and the public, reminisced about her own three babies, their scrunched-up newborn days and tiny fingernails.
She was particularly delighted to have a cuddle with baby Bianca Moran, who was born early at 34 weeks and five days, weighed just over 5lbs at birth and is now doing well. She is currently being cared for by a specialist team and mum Sylvia.
“She looks so comfortable, are you sure?” the Princess said, visibly delighted to be allowed to hold a newborn and cooing over her fingernails. “She’s very sweet.”
With the help of a neonatal nurse, the Princess cradled Bianca carefully and stroked her head - the only baby she held during the visit.
“They have their own plans, don’t they!” the Princess said of the baby arriving before 35 weeks gestation. “I’m sure it didn’t go as you expected it to. She is so cuddled up, you're obviously doing a brilliant job. I bet you can’t wait to introduce her to the family when you get home.”
She also spent time on a postnatal ward with four babies who had been born in the last 48 hours, asking parents how they were coping.
Hearing about some of the “eventful” births, she empathised: “No matter how much everyone tells you what you expect, it’s a shock to the system, isn’t it?
“You have this idea of what will happen but every single birth is different.”
Complimenting mothers on how well they were coping, she added: “As nurturing as I know the hospital is, there’s nothing like being in your own home. And I bet your families are desperate to see you all.”
Focusing on maternal mental health and pioneering overnight facilities, Royal Surrey County Hospital helps women feel safe, supported & have the best chance of developing those all-important early attachments, crucial to ensuring their babies thrive. pic.twitter.com/8xGFAymmrD
— The Prince and Princess of Wales (@KensingtonRoyal) October 5, 2022
Meeting baby Giles Talbot-Erasmus, she joked that she still considered Prince Louis her baby, “but he’s a big boy now. It just feels like yesterday”.
Admiring Giles’s mittens, which covered long fingernails, she added of the newborn’s scrunched-up pose: “George was so huddled up too, he spent quite a few days like that.”
Speaking to second-time parents Hannah and Luke Culverwell who had a two-day-old baby boy and his older brother at nursery, she heard how the toddler currently had a little bump on the head just in time for the family photographs.
“They all get them,” she reassured them, smiling. “They just seem to pick up these cuts and bumps, it’s part of parcel of it.”
Watching the newborns sleeping, the Princess said: “They do a lot of sleeping [at this stage] don’t they? But I expect your ears are tuned for any little noise. They snuffle so much - or mine did.”
The Princess wore a mask for the duration of the hospital visit, asking midwives, nurses and parents about their experiences.
She had chosen the hospital herself for an engagement in recognition of its outstanding status in maternity care and a recent Unicef Baby Friendly Initiative Gold Award for its work to support infant feeding and parent-infant relationships.
In particular, it is one of few hospitals with facilities to allow mothers to stay with their babies while in the special care baby unit (SCBU) and provides continuity of care for mothers throughout their pregnancies with the same midwife.
The Princess visited the Jasmine Team, which provides mental health support, as well as hearing how SCBU was supporting families.
She told staff: “It must make so much difference to families that they can stay together. You do such a vital role.
“The fact that you’re providing this amazing support is really needed. That’s why I wanted to be here and celebrate it, and showcase the importance of midwives and these services in general.”
She spent time talking to Chiara Hale, a teenage mother to Maeve who was born in June, and Ria Clarke-Rice who used the mental health services at the hospital.
The Princess asked staff a series of questions about how and when they offered mental health support to pregnant women and mothers, how receptive people were to it, and how a perceived stigma is changing.
“So many women don’t reach out for help because they don’t realise what they’re going through until much further down the line,” she said.
“That’s why this wraparound support is so important, not just from a medical team but also family and friends.
“Being able to open the conversation up for mothers to prioritise and take care of themselves.
“So often you think, ‘I don't have time’ or ‘my children come first’, but actually if you can be the best person in yourself, you are supporting your child.”
The Princess also met the Arnold family, whose baby Arthur spent 11 days in SCBU.
“You realise how vulnerable they are when they’re that tiny,” she said to parents Kelly and David. “It must be so nice to have him at home now, you’re doing so well.”
In a small specialist unit looking after four premature babies, the Princess was particularly interested in how they have chairs which fold out into beds so that parents can stay with their newborns 24 hours a day if they wish.
“It must help form that early attachment as well as helping the mothers’ confidence, being part of the babies’ lives right from the start,” she said. “Particularly when they must be so anxious.”
Speaking to staff before she left, the Princess also asked about the coronavirus pandemic and the effect it had on maternity care.
“Covid has put everyone under pressure like never before,” she said. “Babies still need to be born!”
“You must be so proud of the whole ward here.”
The visit to the Royal Surrey County Hospital maternity unit in Guildford is part of her ongoing work on early years development and was chosen specifically to highlight how her focus on the topic will continue in her new role as Princess of Wales.