This guest post is from Hannah Holt–a mom with a great head on her shoulders, a creative mind, and four young kids. Her twins are almost one year old. Hannah writes books for kids and shares great ideas over at her site Lightbulb Books.
On a cold but beautiful day last January, I became a mother twice over.
Because having twins put me at a higher risk for C-section, the hospital staff wouldn’t let me eat or drink during labor. I labored for twelve hours. As you might imagine, I arrived in postpartum recovery that night feeling more than a little hungry, thirsty, and exhausted. After breastfeeding my babies, I called for the nurse…
Me: Would you take the babies, so I can get some rest?
Nurse: I can’t do that.
Me: What do you mean?
Nurse: Well, we’re a baby-friendly hospital. We practice rooming-in here.
Me: But I don’t want to room-in. You have a nursery. It’s right over there.
Nurse: The nursery is only for babies with medical needs.
Me: I need a break. Can’t you take them for a little while?
Nurse: I’m really sorry. We aren’t staffed to do that.
Well, that sounded like a staffing problem to me. Of course, at the moment I was too overwhelmed to do anything about it.
However as my twins first birthday approached, I decided it was time to call the hospital and discuss their staffing issue. In my conversations, I learned this:
- Baby-friendly isn’t just a nice term. It’s a special designation by UNICEF and the World Heath Organization (WHO).
- Being baby-friendly made it impossible for the nursing staff to take my babies to the nursery. Babies have to remain with Mom for at least 23 hours a day, unless medically necessary.
- Fatigue alone isn’t considered a good enough reason for separation.
So far baby-friendly didn’t sound very mother-friendly to me. Were UNICEF and the WHO conspiring to keep new mothers up at night? That seemed unlikely.
I wanted to know more. So I contacted 10 baby-friendly and 17 non-designated hospitals nationwide. Each answered questions about their night-nursery policies. Here are the results:
- Baby-friendly hospital nurses are required to complete paperwork every time the infant is removed from the mother.
- New mothers must justify why they need a break. Feeling exhausted? Let’s have a nice long chat about why you really should stay with Baby. Guilt trip included: “I guess we’ll have to pull a nurse out of her regular rotation for that…”
- Several nurses commented on the taxing workload of bringing babies back and forth from the nursery for demand feedings.
- Smaller hospitals don’t have the resources to keep up with night-nursery babies and baby-friendly requirements.
- Some larger hospitals choose not to have night-nurseries because “evidence-based research suggest that mothers sleep better when babies room-in.” (a St. Joseph’s* postpartum charge nurse,** Denver).
Some mothers might balk at that last statement. “Ain’t no way Momma sleeps better with Baby in the roost.” But it’s true. At least a dozen scientific studies point to this conclusion: Rooming-in mothers are often better breastfeeders, sleepers, weight losers, parents… you name it.
However, there will always be exceptions. Take me: 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. (BTW, I breastfed all four of my children for the first year, so non-roomers do it, too.)
I told the nurse at St. Joseph’s…
Me: I don’t sleep better with Baby in the room.
Nurse: There will always be individual needs and adaptations.
Me: So you could accommodate my request [to not sleep in the same room as my baby].
Nurse: No, sorry.
Why so inflexible? After talking to a few dozen nurses this past week, I’ve decided it’s this:
A well meaning desire to convince all mothers that rooming-in is the best option, regardless of personal experience.
A Good Samaritan lactation nurse in Lafayette, Colorado summed it up nicely, “We feel like it’s the right thing to do for moms and babies.” [“We” being the hospital staff.] She continued, “Just like we would council someone to put down a cigarette, we would encourage a new mother to stay with her baby.”
But I’m not the only addict out there. I took an anonymous poll of 33 moms*** and this is what I found:
- 63% of mothers prefer some level of night-nursery care
- 15% want a break for an hour or two
- 45% want babies in the nursery all night, but brought back for feedings
- 3% want babies in the nursery all night, no exceptions
I can understand both sides. My oldest son was born at Salt Lake Regional Medical Center (a non-designated hospital). After delivery, the baby suddenly disappeared. I sent my mother looking for him, and she found him in the nursery surrounded by nursing students, who were practicing their shots (on HIM).
I didn’t authorize this. I didn’t even know where he went. Obviously there need to be better guidelines for keeping mothers with babies. The guidelines provided by the baby-friendly designation are a great start, but they go too far. They don’t leave enough room for individual adaptation. There needs to be some accounting for mother preference… Because good mother care is good baby care.
And HELLO, I had twins!
What do you think is a good balance? How do you feel about rooming-in? Did you have an experience with required rooming-in? Would love to hear your thoughts!