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The first day in a new life

In Bihar, a state with one of the lowest rates of hospital births in India, you will hear repeatedly that a new mother has come back home from the hospital within a few hours of delivery. The time may vary depending on when the family gets the government incentive of Rs 1,400 (about $28) that a new mother is entitled to. Occasionally, a family may spend the night if it’s too dark to travel back to the village. Most people aren’t aware of just how crucial those first forty-eight hours are for both the mother and the baby.

The reasons for hurrying back are manifold. Some don’t want to waste time in the alien atmosphere of a hospital and want to get back to celebrate the new arrival. Others say they fear being asked to pay money if they stay back. They are unaware that most complications occur during this forty-eight hour period and that staying in the hospital overnight could potentially save the mother’s and the baby’s lives.

What will the family do back in the village if there is a complication in the mother’s or baby’s health?

Mistake 1: Some might go to one of the ‘jhol tanga’ doctors – quacks who roam villages on bicycles with a side-bag, or ‘jhola’, carrying supplies.

Mistake 2: Others may scramble to borrow money from neighbours and arrange a taxi back to the hospital. The question is will they make it in time and how will they pay back the money they borrowed?

Mistake 3: And others may even rush to the traditional midwife in the village and drag her home to attend to the mother or baby. But can she deal with postnatal complications?

Unfortunately too often, these measures aren’t enough.