In 1980 my mother had me in a little hospital in New Jersey, USA. It was a great birth. Natural, straightforward and just what my mother had hoped for. I had my first breastfeed and was then promptly taken away to the nursery so my mother could rest. We were so lucky in that my mother had no issues breastfeeding me, however it is heartbreaking to read her experiences with the hospital nursery and what it meant for her (and me)!
From my mother’s diary that she kept in the hospital…
I was ready for bed but I got this feeling to go see Megan one last time. I went in and she was in a room all by herself. I felt, “Why is she here all alone?” And I figured it was because she has been crying. I felt so bad I started to cry and so did she, so I picked her up.
The nursery nurse Barbara (who is an absolute doll) said, “Oh! You found her in the bad baby nursery!” I felt like such a lousy mother. Barbara said, “Why don’t you rock her in the chair?” So I did. I said I felt guilty because I wanted to breastfeed her but had taken some medication. She said it would be OK so I sat and nursed her. I nursed about 5 minutes on each side.
I sat with her and there 2 other nurses there trying to calm down some of the other babies. At about 12pm they said I should go back to my room and rest. One of the nurses said they would take care of her and put her under the warmer. So I went to room and slept.
I am so grateful to have these notes from my mother!! Such raw insight into what it’s like having baby nurseries in hospitals. Mother and baby are separated and the mother feels like she has no control. Almost like it’s not even her baby! My mother felt her instincts calling out, “Go see your baby” and then felt so sad just seeing me lying there by myself. Imagine how different it would have been for her confidence as a mother to have me with her 24/7 in the same room? Have my care be 100% from her. There is something to be said for building the confidence of mothers by keeping them together.
My mother in law shared her story with me about her experiences when she had my husband. This was in Australia in 1981. She said she was hooked up to the pump as he was in the nursery. She was supposed to go to the nursery at 11am to feed him. She was a couple minutes late. The nurse said, ‘You’re late! We already fed him a bottle! You can just go back to your room.” So she left the nursery crying as she made her way back to her room, without her baby and without having fed him.
Hearing stories like this you can see how far we have come!
Of course we all know how keeping mothers and babies together leads to an easier start with breastfeeding How do we know this? Because babies who breastfeed on demand are much more likely to get enough milk than those babies who are separated from their mothers and NOT breastfeeding on demand. A nurse trying to settle a baby in a nursery is a baby who needs to actually be with its mother breastfeeding. One of my friends who had a baby in the 1970’s said that when she went to breastfeed her baby in the nursery there was music blasting to help “calm the babies”…imagine how much calmer they would have all been just simply BEING with their mother!
Babies who are skin to skin or very close to their mothers will breastfeed more frequently and therefor the mother will make more milk, more quickly. This will then in turn decrease the likelihood of breastfeeding challenges. This is why the Baby Friendly Hospital Accreditation is so important. Regardless if you are breastfeeding or not though, simply BEING with your baby following the birth is so incredibly important. No other mammal on this planet births their baby and then leaves them. It’s unheard of…except with humans.
Did you know there are some who are fighting these baby nursery closures! While baby nurseries start to close around the world, the controversy amps up. People start getting upset, “I need rest! These baby nurseries are crucial to my wellbeing and recovery as a new mother! It’s only the PRIVILEGED women who have partners that can take time off of work to help them in the hospital.” Unfortunately this does not address the whole point of having mother and baby together.
When my eldest son was born I was so clueless! I had him and then that first night as he slept in his little bassinet he kept making noises. Not crying just making a lot of noises. I thought, “What is wrong? He can’t possibly be hungry already.” No one explained to me that he actually needed to breastfeed in that first night. Because he was not crying I thought he was fine but I kept waking to his little noises. I asked one of the nurses, “Could you please take him? He is making so many noises.” She replied, “Well, we encourage rooming in but I’ll take him.”
Instead of explaining to me that he actually wants to breastfeed, I was left feeling stupid as she took him away with a cranky look on her face. If only she had explained to me that he was looking to feed. Explain to me that he needed a cuddle. Those first 24 hours would have been so different for me…and my baby! I still feel guilty about that night. Rather than giving him cuddles and breastfeeding him, I was asking for him to be taken away so I could sleep…because I didn’t know what was NORMAL. This is what keeping mothers and babies together does, it allows for education on normal newborn behaviour and what they are looking for.
As new mothers, we need to know what babies require in those first 24-48 hours and we need to support the mother as best we can. This is a systemic issue within our medical system and how we support (or don’t support) women and their babies in the days following their birth. Let’s get back to basics and support women so they can feel confident mothering their newborn babies. Babies need frequent cuddles and frequent breastfeeds. Mothers need frequent cuddles and frequent education on what to expect, what is normal, and why it is so important to stay together as one unit…right from the first moments following the birth.