The Telegraph

5 April 2000

Mothers 'prefer to be at home with children'

By Celia Hall, Medical Editor
The Daily Telegraph/Electronic Telegraph (London, UK)

MOST mothers would prefer to stay at home and look after their children if they could afford to do so, according to a survey.

It questioned 2,000 mothers and pregnant women and found that 81 per cent would give up work if they could. Only six per cent with babies enjoyed full-time work. The poll, by Mother & Baby Magazine and Bupa, asked readers to answer 100 detailed questions, including how the father behaved at the birth, how motherhood affected their careers and how quickly they could get their babies to sleep at night.

Women were aged 30 on average, 68 per cent were married, 26 per cent living with boyfriends, 43 per cent were pregnant and 76 per cent had at least one child. Only five per cent of the women said they would want to have a baby at 45, the age of Cherie Blair when she has her fourth child, expected next month.

Women from Northern Ireland were more comfortable with the idea of late pregnancy - 11 per cent said they would not mind. Asked if they would have another child if they had children of the same age as the Blairs' - 16, 15 and 12 - seven per cent said they would. Women in the South-East (14 per cent) were the readiest to do so.

According to the survey, grandparents are child minders for 44 per cent of working mothers; only nine per cent of women said they would choose a home birth and only seven per cent had a "completely natural childbirth", while 84 per cent said they preferred a hospital birth and seven per cent wanted an elective caesarian.

More than a quarter had had a caesarian delivery, of which three per cent were planned for medical reasons, six per cent were the mother's choice and 17 per cent were emergencies. Birth came as a shock to 75 per cent, 70 per cent said it was more painful than they had imagined, 74 per cent had been frightened and 44 per cent said it "was far more shocking than I thought".

There were regional differences. In East Anglia, 86 per cent said birth had been more painful than expected, compared to 61 per cent in the north east. Only three per cent of Yorkshire fathers were not present at the birth. Friends or sisters were present at five per cent of births. In the South-West, grandmothers were at 23 per cent of births, but in Scotland at only five per cent.

Stephanie Neuman, executive editor of Mother & Baby, who has a son, seven, and a daughter, four, said: "It is staggeringly difficult for women to be at work full time and be a mother, especially when the second baby comes along. Successive governments have failed to make it any easier for the working mother, but work pressures have increased tremendously while child-care options remain limited.

"I am not surprised that so many women want to stay at home, but I am staggered that so many find labour so painful and frightening when we live in an age when so much information is available. I think it is all to do with the high expectations we all have today at every level in our lives. Women have learned to work in a male environment, using contraception, controlling their lives, choosing their careers.

"The one thing you cannot control is labour. I think women find this really difficult to handle." Fathers come in for praise in the survey. It found that 13 per cent would not let their wife or girlfriend "lift a finger" during pregnancy and 68 per cent of women said the father-to-be had been more caring, kind and considerate when they were pregnant.

After the baby was born 66 per cent of fathers often changed nappies and 57 per cent of women said the father "doted on the baby". Most women, 84 per cent, considered "a mother and a father" ideal for bringing up a child, 90 per cent said motherhood had made them happier and 99 per cent felt a sense of pride and achievement.

© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2000.