I recently gave birth in a “baby friendly” hospital. My newborn was with me through out my entire hospital stay, except for a few minutes when they gave her a bath and a few more minutes when our pediatrician took her to another room to suction mucus out of her throat. There was no mention of formula and lots of breastfeeding support. From what I have read, having babies room-in with mothers (infant and mother bonding) and encouraging breastfeeding (classified as the optimal way to feed an infant) seem to be the corner stones of the baby friendly initiative. Sounds good, right? For the most part I am sure it is, but I think we can do even better by working towards a mom friendly hospital experience too.
Everyone knows it’s nearly impossible to get any sleep in the hospital, but I don’t think it has to be that way. For new mothers, sleeping, while in the hospital, should be more of a priority. If you’ve been in labor for hours, given birth, and then spent 48 hours not sleeping because hospital staff kept interrupting, you’re going to be a hot mess by the time you get home. I calculated that I got exactly 20 minutes of sleep during my most recent hospital stay. I’m pretty sure this lack of sleep, after the tiring exercise of pushing a tiny human out of your body, doesn’t help in the prevention of postpartum depression. Exhausted isn’t exactly a baby friendly or mom friendly way to begin parenthood.
After giving birth people were coming in and out of my room day and night. At one point during my stay the nurse was hooking me up to receive some antibiotics while the pharmacist, the phlebotomist, and the hospital ombudsmen were all waiting in my room to speak to me. Through out the day the medical records clerk stopped by twice, the lactation specialist came by three times, and someone stopped to offer a prayer. These visits all happened in between the nurses, the medical technicians (blood draw every four hours, blood pressure, oxygen levels, and temperature check every two – for both me and baby) and the doctors visiting. Basically we got 5-8 minutes of quiet and privacy at a time. The second night, when it finally seemed like we might get a reprieve, we turned off the lights and tried to get some sleep. Just as we started to doze-off a nurse came into our dark room to ask us if we needed anything. In a polite, clench teethed sort of way, I said, “Some sleep would be nice.” She laughed. Of course she did because everyone knows there is no sleeping in the hospital.
In a mom friendly hospital there would be a coordination of medical visits so moms would have uninterrupted stretches of time to sleep or bond with baby. There would also be a checklist provided early on so mom could choose who they wanted visiting. Don’t want to be visited by the hospital pastor or lactation consultant? Don’t check them off. Prefer to have your medications explained on paper instead of a visit from the pharmacist? Don’t check off the pharmacist. You see where I am going with this.
I don’t want to get into a debate about breastfeeding versus formula feeding (but you can find my thoughts on it here), but I wonder, why do we have to go to such extremes? I’ve read some baby friendly hospitals keep formula under lock and key and that a doctor has to write a prescription for it. Formula is not a controlled substance. This doesn’t make any sense to me. We were told if we wanted to give our baby formula we’d have to bring it into the hospital ourselves. So we did just in case we needed it. I have a history of low milk production and we didn’t want to starve our second child like we did the first one. On the other hand, hospitals used to push formula on people who didn’t want it. Wouldn’t it be more baby and mom friendly to find a balance here? Mothers want to do the best they can for their child. They don’t need to feel guilty on the first day they become a parent. In a mom friendly hospital, both feeding options would be equally available and supported without judgement. I think this is baby friendly too.
Another confusing thing baby friendly hospitals are doing is getting rid of the nursery. I get it. The baby rooms with mom so there is no need for a nursery, except sometimes there is. When I had my first child I spent a little over 24 hours in the ICU after giving birth. I couldn’t stand or get up on my own so I wasn’t allowed to have my baby with me unless someone else (like my mom or husband) was in the room with me. I wonder, what happens now under similar circumstances? Where will the baby go? Does mom take care of the baby anyway even though it may not be safe for her to do so?
How about we keep the nursery just in case so mom doesn’t have one more thing to worry about after giving birth? Can we be a little more mom friendly and provide space and time for mom to heal when she needs it? Again, we are going from one extreme to another. Mom’s couldn’t room with their baby before and now they have to no matter what the circumstances are. Where is the balance and sensible decision making?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m pro baby friendly. It’s a terrific idea to push hospitals to do better. I’d just like to see some effort in making hospitals a little more mom friendly too. And a little more balanced. Hospitals don’t have to be friendly to one group and not to the other. We can be kind and supportive to both mom and baby…at the same time.