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The hospital nursery: a thing of the past?

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In the final months of pregnancy, sleep can be hard to come by, so by the time your baby makes his debut, you’re ready for a good hearty nap. Since your baby is most alert during the first hour or two after birth, that’s the best time to plop him onto your chest and give breastfeeding a try, and then after that he’s going to spend most of his hospital time sleeping in the nursery, right? But this is not necessarily the case in a modern hospital.

The classic hospital nursery filled with swaddled, cozy infants with little pink or blue hats is becoming a thing of the past: new “baby friendly” hospital policies keep your baby in your room at all times. The goal is to improve breastfeeding success and facilitate bonding; studies have shown that babies kept with their mothers cry less, are easier to soothe, sleep more, and take in more breast milk.

This sounds like common sense off the bat: as Kim Brooks wrote for Babble, “After waiting nine-plus months to meet the baby of my dreams, why would I possibly want to ship him off to a sterile, fluorescent-lit nursery where I wouldn’t be able to stare into his eyes or caress his little hands or cuddle him against my chest? Provided the guy was in good health, why would I not want him beside me every moment of those first few days?”

Also, many first-time moms find that it’s beneficial to “work with a net” taking care of their baby full-time at the hospital with the benefit of having professionals close by. It can increase their confidence and make the transition from hospital to home feel a bit less extreme.

The issue we have with the new rules about rooming in is not with the science: it’s about choices. As Morgan Sheena wrote at Boston City Moms, “As moms, we have the right to have a say. We should call the shots in our care —before, during, and after labor. We can decide what is best for ourselves and our babies.”  Every new parent has different needs, both medically and emotionally, and while studies seem to indicate that on average, new moms don’t get more or better sleep when the baby is being cared for in the nursery, no study offers a guarantee of outcomes for the individual. Every birth, every family, and every mom is unique, and for every mama who sleeps more soundly with her baby in the room, there’s another mom like Hannah at Momsicle, who writes: “I sleep better with Baby in the room next door. Put Baby in the same rooms as me, and I obsess over her breathing… all night.”

Worse, if you’re already exhausted (and lack of sleep can be genuinely dangerous!), the last thing you want to hear when you ask the nurse to take over baby care for a little bit is a guilt trip about how you really OUGHT to keep the baby with you. Adding that pressure when you’re already physically and emotionally drained is unkind to say the least.

Moms who have just gone through C-sections, moms of multiples, and moms with older kids at home seem to have the most difficulties with rooming in: a C-section is major abdominal surgery, and when you can barely get out of bed, getting up to tend to the baby can be a trial. Plus, rooming-in policies sometimes seem to be applied even when it just doesn’t seem smart anymore, in situations like the one described here by a commenter here at CT Working Moms:

“I’d had a repeat c-section and was still hooked up to the catheter (basically I could not stand up or move around much at all) and after my husband left to go home with my older child, I was told the nursery was closed and I had to keep my newborn with me for the night. This was like 8 hours after I’d given birth. I couldn’t move even to put her in the bassinet and if I had gotten her in the bassinet, I wouldn’t have been able to get her back out. So I layed in bed all night holding her in my arms afraid to fall asleep and drop her and not be able to pick her back up. Every time the nurses came in to check my vitals I asked them if they could take her so I could sleep and they told me the nursery was closed.”

That’s a situation that just plain isn’t safe for babies: falling asleep with a newborn in your arms is dangerous!

We hope that in the future, more hospitals will exercise better judgment and have more respect for individual parents. As username Nineteen84 wrote at the AllNurses messageboard, “It’s a balancing act that involves good old human compassion and nursing judgment. It’s not doing what we do because that’s how we do it.”

One comment

  1. Don’t even get me started. I just recently gave birth to my 4th child. Had a c-section (that was not very pleasant and the recovery was difficult). My husband was mostly home with our other kids while I was in the hospital and by night 2 (literally 28 hours after major abdominal surgery) the nurses were expecting me to pop out of bed, change a diaper and nurse all without help. Mind you I could barely get to the bathroom and pull down my pants to pee on my own! It was a horrible 4 days in the hospital. Baby friendly can’t be the end all be all. There needs to be conversations that there isn’t one way to do things that works for all mothers. I did not find it mother friendly at all. And I am all for encouraging breastfeeding and empowering mothers to leave the hospital feeling like they’ve “got this”. But honestly. With 4 kids I just needed some rest and to recover from surgery!!! (Now I’ll step down from my pedestal, but it was truly miserable).

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