Care for mothers with new babies in Britain is inadequate, it was claimed yesterday.
Many women feel "confused, abandoned and let down", according to the National Childbirth Trust.
The NCT published a survey of some 1,260 first time mothers.
Many complained about care in hospital, saying they feel isolated and helpless. Mothers complained of seeing different midwives and getting conflicting advice on critical issues such as the feeding of babies.
The bitterest complaints came from women who had undergone procedures for difficult births, such as caesarean operations or forceps aided birth. Some 43 per cent of those who had a caesarean said their emotional needs were not met.
Anne Fox, of the NCT, called on NHS boards to set targets for improving post-natal care.
She said many of the problems were caused by staff shortages.
She said: "Our report paints a dreadful, shocking picture of care in the UK – we’re letting women and their babies down.
"Evidence shows that supporting women and babies at this vital time can have a major impact on future health and learning."
Mother Clare Wilson, from the north-east of England, was one of several mothers to give a detailed account of their problems.
She said: "After the birth of my son, born by emergency caesarean, I couldn’t lift him out of the cot and there was no-one around to help. I had to ask another mother on the ward to lift him up to me. A day after, midwives encouraged me to shower but no one came with me. I could barely walk, nearly fell over and was bleeding all over the floor and trying to clean it up.
"It was really scary and upsetting.
"I remember feeling very thirsty and had to keep calling for water, but it took a while before anyone came. I missed a meal too, because you had to go out of the ward to fetch it and I couldn’t walk that far."