Shortly after giving birth to my eldest child, I was ready for the nurses to whisk her away into the hospital nursery so that they could bathe her and perform all of the necessary tests. After all, it’s what I’d seen in the movies and even read in my pregnancy books. But much to my surprise, all tests were done in my room, with me close by.
Our hospital promoted mother-baby bonding, which meant that my baby would stay with me, in my room, at all times during our entire stay. As a new mom, I knew nothing else, so I just went with it. Our room was huge, with plenty of room for both my husband and the baby. And because it was a private room, my husband was able to stay overnight and help with those late night diaper changes.
I look back on that stay fondly, and remember how beneficial it was to me as a brand new mom who knew next to nothing about how to care for my new child. With my baby in the room, I was able to learn how to do things that I’d never done before, including breastfeed, swaddle, and change a diaper. I was so thankful for the nurses who were there to help me whenever I needed it and I was also grateful for my husband who was able to stay with me day and night and help with the baby when I needed to get rest.
Two years after my first was born, I had my second child. This time we were living in New York City and my hospital stay was very, very different. The luxurious room that I stayed in with my first child looked like a 5-star hotel compared to the room that I was in this time. This one was tiny and not at all private — I had to share it with another mom that had recently given birth, as well. The visiting hours were during daytime only and they were very strict about that policy, which didn’t allow my husband to stay overnight to help at all.
During my hospital stay, my daughter was latching on beautifully during our breastfeeding sessions, and we cuddled during the day when friends and family came to visit her. But once everyone had to leave, I called the nurse and had them take her to the nursery so that I could rest. I told them to bring her to me when she needed to be fed. Knowing that I had a toddler to go home to in a couple of days — and that I would soon be taking care of not one, but two little ones when I got there — I decided to take full advantage of the nursery and the amazing nurses that watched after her. In the meantime, I got in some of the last truly restful bits of sleep that I would have for a long, long time.
It was much of the same when I had my third child, just a couple of years after that. I’d been there, done that, and knew how exhausted I’d be when I had to go home and do it all on my own. So while my husband was home taking care of our two daughters, I was in the hospital, taking full advantage of the nursing staff that was willing to care after my son while I slept.
Knowing that my hospital stays were very different between my first and last child, I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. I was grateful that my eldest was able to stay with me so I could hone in on my parenting skills. And with my youngest, I felt so lucky to be able to get in that much needed rest before I was off on my own. And best of all, with my second and third children, I had the choice to send them to the nursery when I needed some time to myself.
All of this came flooding back recently when I read that Massachusetts hospitals are slowly doing away with newborn nurseries entirely. It’s actually not just Massachusetts, either — for several years now, hospitals throughout the country have done the same. It’s all part of the nation-wide “Baby-Friendly’’ initiative, launched by the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund to encourage breastfeeding, promote bonding time, and strengthen early parenting skills.
At first read, that sounds like a great thing. But I can’t help but see the other side of the coin here: In doing so, hospitals are taking away a mother’s choice of what to do with her baby right after birth. They are making the decision for her, by giving her no other option than to keep the baby in the room at all times. They are telling her the “right” way to bond.
We hear all the time that “breast is best” and that you should have as much “skin to skin” contact with your baby as possible within those first few days. And there is a lot of truth and scientific backing to all of that. But those things can still be done in the hospital even if your child is not in the room with you 24/7. I breastfed all three of my children for over a year and the funny thing is, my youngest two — who stayed in the hospital nursery — were breastfed exclusively for over a year. My oldest daughter, who stayed with me in the room at all times, was supplemented with formula because my supply diminished when I went back to work.
My point is, I can’t shake the feeling that the logic behind this initiative is missing the mark somehow. Because in reality, there is no “right” way to bond with your baby, and new moms shouldn’t feel forced or pressured into doing it one “correct” way. Of course, there are plenty of mothers who don’t want their babies out of their sight once they are born, and that’s completely okay and understandable.
But not every birth story is the same.
Let’s not forget the mothers who have gone through rough, and maybe even traumatic labors and deliveries — the ones who need to rest and recoup in order to be the best possible mother they can be to their child. Let’s not forget the mom who has one, two, or three more kids waiting for her at home, and may just need a little extra shut-eye after a tiring birth.
As a mother, I know what’s best for my child and myself. Ultimately, it’s my decision what we need or don’t need; I know the best way we should “bond.”
And the choice of how to do that shouldn’t be up to anyone else … but me.