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I'm Against Mandatory Rooming-In With Your Baby — Here's Why

Mother and baby. (Courtesy of Juanedc/Flickr)
Mother and baby. (Courtesy of Juanedc/Flickr)
This article is more than 3 years old.

After giving birth to my son in July of 2012, I felt exuberant. I felt powerful. I also felt tired.

“You ready for another baby?” my doctor asked.

I gave her a high five, “I was born ready!”

My husband was hovering near our son in an incubator some 10 feet away. A nurse yelled to him to run back to my side — our daughter didn’t want to wait much longer. A few pushes and there she was. Screaming and healthy.

I collapsed and asked for water. It had been a long labor and I hadn’t slept for almost 24 hours.

While some hospitals make concessions ... these maternity policies will soon become more common...

A few hours later, the four of us were in a small room on Brigham and Women’s maternity ward. The nurses asked me if I wanted to send the babies to the nursery until they needed to feed again. I looked at my husband. He nodded. The babies were wheeled in to breastfeed throughout the night while we attempted to get a bit of rest before heading home.

An article in Sunday’s Boston Globe touting the fact that Massachusetts hospitals are slowly removing nurseries from maternity wards left me absolutely exasperated:

"The shift is part of a national movement designed to promote breastfeeding, bonding, and parenting skills by having mothers and healthy newborns room together around-the-clock, attended by nurses who look after their needs."

While some hospitals make concessions for medical issues and “women who are too exhausted to function,” these maternity policies will soon become more common as they are part the “Baby-Friendly’’ initiative launched by the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund to encourage breastfeeding.

The author's newborn twins at rest in the nursery. (Courtesy)
The author's newborn twins at rest in the nursery. (Courtesy)

The key issue here is choice. Women who want to “room-in” with their babies should be allowed to do so. Of course. But mothers who want an hour or two to recover from giving birth should also be given that opportunity. Just last week, a government-appointed health panel recommended screening for maternal mental illness for pregnant and postpartum women. (Nearly one in seven mothers suffers from postpartum depression according to some experts). The Centers for Disease Control say between 11 and 20 percent of all new mothers experience symptoms. According to a Harvard Mental Health newsletter, some of the contributing factors to postpartum depression include stress, lack of support, and yes — fatigue.

I was lucky to have two beautiful, healthy babies. My recovery was tougher — I dislocated my pelvis while giving birth and had to use a walker for six weeks. Just hours before an official diagnosis, I had tearfully begged the resident on call to give me one more day in the hospital in order to rest and allow my husband to move everything to the first floor of our home (stairs would not be an option for at least a month). She whipped her long hair back and sat on the end of my bed: “Honey, parenting is going to be hard. You’re going to be tired. You should probably just start accepting that.”

...a strong start to this lifelong journey is one that will benefit both family and child. Let women rest while they can.

The same condescending tone is employed in this weekend’s Globe piece. Trish MacEnroe, the executive director of Baby-Friendly USA, insists that the goal of rooming-in “is not to wear out the mother. It’s for mothers to learn under the guidance of trained health professionals. Yes, moms are tired, of course. But being tired is part of parenting.”

She’s right — new parents will be tired for years to come. Nothing will change that. But a strong start to this lifelong journey is one that will benefit both family and child. Let women rest while they can. Just as women have been empowered to make decisions surrounding the birth of their child, allow them to make the right choices for their own care postpartum. If a new mom wants two hours to nap after laboring for 20 hours and pushing out a baby (or two), she should have it.

Related:

Jessica Alpert Twitter Managing Producer, Program Development
Jessica Alpert is the managing producer for program development at WBUR. In this position, she develops new podcasts and programs while also launching and nurturing WBUR’s newest projects.

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