The B.C. government is putting an end to a decades-old practice of ensuring every new mother in the province gets a home visit from a public health nurse.

The province says it needs to redirect money to better serve the most vulnerable new parents. Under the new rules, which take effect in 2012, all new mothers will get a phone call first to determine whether a visit is necessary.

The government is cutting the program to pay for a new program that targets first-time mothers under the age of 25 who are deemed high-risk. Those new mothers will receive what the government calls intensive follow-up care.

B.C. Nurses' Union president Deborah McPherson said it means cases of post-partum depression, newborn jaundice and breastfeeding issues could be missed.

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The province says only new moms under the age of 25 who are deemed high-risk will visit with a public health nurse. CBC

"As one nurse said to me: 'I was shocked. I went into a home, I was talking to this mum, she seemed to be doing fine, until at one point in the conversation she said she felt like putting her head in the oven,'" McPherson said.

"I don't think that kind of conversation is going to happen in a doctor's office."

In addition, McPherson said, the cuts will put a greater burden on all of B.C.'s public heath nurses.

"As well, they're taking nurses out of the cadre of nurses we have, some 56 of them and 10 coordinators ... from our public health nurse population, to do this program," she said.

"They're not backfilling them with anyone else, so the remainder of the nurses will have to also pick up all the other work that these nurses would do, besides the new mum visits."

McPherson said it means programs like public immunizations will be further strained.

Targeting those in need

However, Minister of Children and Family Development Mary McNeil insists the plan is actually a positive development. She said research shows not every mother needs follow-up care from a public health nurse.

"I look at my four daughters, who are all having children, and they already work with their mid-wives, their physicians and they're doing well," McNeil said.

"I'm very fortunate in that they have not required extra attention, so ... you really have to take a look [at] who are those that need the attention."

'It makes me weep'

But the news does not sit will with Kelly Ryan, a fundraiser for West Side Family Place, a family resource centre in Vancouver.

"It makes me weep, it really does," she said. "I'm very emotional about this. I think it's a real tragedy, and I think for a government that claims to be families first, this is astonishing. It's hypocritical."

Ryan, who is financially secure and in her 40s, wouldn't fit the government's high-risk criteria.

But after the birth of her son several years ago, Ryan thought her son was sleeping well and had her husband's olive skin tone until a home visit from a public health nurse.

"[She said], 'He's not sleeping well. He's jaundiced. He can't wake up, and you've got to go to the hospital right now,'" said Ryan.

The nurse also identified Ryan's post-partum depression.

With files from the CBC's Steve Lus