Iconic images of angelic newborns lying in a row in hospital nurseries are fast becoming a memory of days gone by. Many hospital facilities are now eliminating nurseries completely. Today, infant rooming-in is becoming the hip new thing, but there’s some kicking and screaming going on as a result — and it’s not coming from the infants.
Fans of the move to have mom and baby together in the same room at the hospital say it greatly encourages breastfeeding. Opponents, however, say the forced move infringes on a mother’s freedom to choose what is best for her and her infant, and that it could lead to increased sleep deprivation for her just when she needs it most.
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This idea of “rooming in” has been an option in the past for new mothers, but now it’s becoming mandatory in some places.
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The trend was begun by the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI), launched by UNICEF and the World Health Organization. The initiative is trying to promote nursing as the natural and number-one way to nourish infants.
The BFHI provides a specific certification process for hospitals to complete in order for a hospital to be designated “baby friendly.” Hospitals want this certification because of the push from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. surgeon general, who issued a call to action to support breastfeeding in 2011. Additionally, an increase in breastfeeding is part of the Healthy People 2020 objective, which creates 10-year targets for improved health in Americans.
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Currently the number of “baby friendly” hospitals is roughly 355 — and there is a projected total of 530 by next year, according to NBC’s “The TODAY Show.”
After certification, a hospital is said to have an “environment that is supportive of best practices in maternity care and of optimal infant feeding,” according to the BFHI website.
[lz_table title=”U.S. National Breastfeeding Rates” source=”CDC Breastfeeding Report Card 2013″]
Have ever breast-fed, 76.5%
Breastfeeding at 6 months, 49.0%
Breastfeeding at 12 months, 27.0%
Exclusive at 3 months, 37.7%
Exclusive at 6 months, 16.4%
The problem is that these “best practices” seem to be personal to whoever’s suggesting them.
Dr. Amy Tuteur is an obstetrician gynecologist based in Boston and a former clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School who is against forced rooming-in at hospitals. Not allowing the mother the option to have her baby taken to the nursery so she can nap or refresh herself and the baby can be cared for by hospital staff is unhealthy for both mother and child, she strongly believes.
“It’s pretty obvious,” she told LifeZette. “If you took a man’s gallbladder out, would you put him in a room with an infant and expect him to take care of that infant? No. So why are we doing that to women?”
The push for rooming-in is largely because some women have found it a beneficial practice and now want others to do the same, Tuteur said.
“One of the most distressing things about contemporary mothering is how people feel the need for everybody else to do what they did — otherwise the other mothers are no good,” she said.
Some mothers are exhausted and in some cases still recovering from the drugs they were given during delivery, especially if they gave birth by C-section. The practice of having the infant in bed with a mother in that state, even just during nursing times, is incredibly dangerous, said Tuteur. Additionally, she said there is no evidence that rooming-in at the hospital increases breastfeeding rates.
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Some hospitals are simply increasing the rooming-in rate, while others are removing nurseries altogether, such as Bayfront Health in Port Charlotte, which now has only an intensive care nursery, according to ABC7.
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Although Massachusetts law demands hospitals have a nursery, rooming-in is still being encouraged by medical staff. One Boston mother was told her child could not be taken to the nursery, according to The Boston Globe.
The assistant director of nursing at the gynecology and obstetrics department at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, Joan Diamond, spoke about the absolutely necessity of the BFHI. As a baby-friendly hospital, Johns Hopkins does still maintain a nursery, but it urges all mothers to breastfeed because it is evidence-based and clearly superior to formula feeding, she said. If a baby is down the hall in the nursery, a mother will not learn the infant’s cues of feeding and will miss crucial feeds that need to be done in the early morning, she said.
“She’s going to go home, and if we haven’t taught her what she needs to know, then breastfeeding is going to go down the tubes,” Diamond said.
In terms of not allowing a mother her much-needed rest, Diamond said nurses are trained to help a mother rest while also keeping her baby at her side. These skills will then transfer to the home.
“A vaginal-delivery mother only stays in the hospital about two days, maybe,” she said. “So if the baby is in the nursery for 24 of those hours, how are we supposed to teach this mother the cues?”
Some women have felt that this push for breastfeeding makes them feel ashamed if they decide to choose formula instead. Diamond says the hospital’s job is to inform parents of the best methods, and that it’s ultimately up to them to choose.
“As a parent, you know what’s best for your baby,” she said.
As the BFHI continues to spread and more hospitals seek the accreditation, only time will tell if this increased rooming-in does in fact increase breastfeeding. Until then, be prepared to keep baby nice and close.
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