The realities of motherhood have changed dramatically in the past two decades and Government is failing to keep up.
Most parents now have their children later in life and most mums return to work between six months and a year after the arrival of their new baby.
Improvements to parental leave and the more plentiful availability of childcare are welcome but do not go far enough to address the true pressures that many modern families face when a new baby arrives.
With family mobility taken for granted by many employers, all too often, parents find themselves welcoming a new baby into a community they know little about and without the daily advice and support from their extended families that previous generations have taken for granted.
Like many women today, I had spent almost a decade working before becoming a mum for the first time.
I could launch a brand new chocolate bar in ten European countries and knew more about the viscosity of motor oil than Jeremy Clarkson. Yet, the practical reality of a new baby left me struggling to get out of my pyjamas before lunchtime.
The arrival of a new baby can all too often be a time of great stress. It may not come as a surprise that couples are most likely to split up in the year following the birth of a child.
Little wonder that when new mums are plunged into this alien world many can find it difficult to adjust without support. Mumsnet.com undertook a survey recently and found that 52 per cent of mums reported having some signs of post natal depression.
And it isn’t just the parents that are affected. In the UK, despite the clear health benefits for our children, we have one of the lowest rates of breast feeding in Europe. After six weeks, only 48 per cent of mothers are breastfeeding their babies and only 21per cent are breastfeeding them exclusively.
After six months, just 1 per cent of mothers in the UK are breastfeeding. Overwhelmingly mothers say the reason they fail to establish or continue breast feeding is that the support was not there.
So how is public policy reflecting these new social dynamics within families? Rather than bolster the support that is there for new parents we have seen the most important and trusted network of professionals, health visitors, dwindle.
What is more, the latest Government health initiative is set to compound the problem further. Super sized ‘poly clinics’ would see smaller community based GP surgeries that can often be a first time mum’s only link into the community, close in favour of remote town centre practices.
When my mother’s generation started their families they had a ready-made support system in place: parents and even grandparents in neighbouring streets, and an army of health visitors to plug the gaps. Today, health visitors are a rare commodity and we may have few links with other people living in our neighbourhood.
Families need support systems in place to help them thrive and David Cameron has made it clear that we want Britain to be the most family friendly country in the world.
Working through Sure Start Children’s Centres we would reintroduce a universal health visitor service which would be responsive to the needs of families. The first steps in a child’s development are central to their life chance and the provision of health visitors is a highly effective way to help parents do the best for their children in the important early years.
We will put in place an extra 2,700 health visitors replacing untrained out reach workers.
And we will give every family a guaranteed level of support with dedicated health visitors building a relationship with the family from before the birth right through the early years.