There is a common scene in our culture that can be found in the minutes and hours after a baby is born. The recovery room and sometimes even the birthing room is filled with loved ones, piling in to see the baby’s first moments outside of the womb.
While this visitation is well-intentioned, I would like to propose that many new families would benefit from a quieter immediate postpartum experience.
I’ve participated in this. Before I ever had a baby, I visited several hospital rooms of a freshly born baby and new parents, expecting to be given time to hold and snuggle the baby. I thought of it as a way to honor them and show love, by wanting to give attention directly to their new little one. Often, I was one of many family members or close friends with the same idea and intentions.
The baby gets passed from one person to the next, all around the room while several minutes and sometimes hours go by before the baby gets back to her mom or dad for very long.
There are several things I now realize that I was interrupting.
Most birthplaces are starting to acknowledge the importance of keeping mothers and babies together for the first “golden hour” (or two) after the birth. The benefits to both mom and baby are well documented.
Both mother and baby are less stressed when they are skin-to-skin and babies cry less. The baby’s body temperature, blood sugar levels, and breathing stabilize. Oxytocin flows through both of them, which stimulates uterine contractions to encourage the smooth delivery of the placenta and decreases blood loss. Oxytocin also gets milk production going.
Breastfeeding is also a crucial part of those first moments and hours. Often, babies will nurse really well right after the birth, even if they have trouble nursing later. The mom and baby need the time and opportunity to practice and adjust to breastfeeding. Babies nurse so frequently in the beginning for many reasons. Their bellies are so small that they use what they eat quickly. Milk is their only source of nourishment and hydration and provides good immunities. It is comforting and soothing while they are adjusting to life outside of the womb.
Keeping baby close allows mom to watch for hunger cues and offer the breast as often as possible. My first midwife told me that babies sometimes sleep through feedings and dirty diapers as a defense mechanism when they are overstimulated and I’ve wondered how often this is the case in a busy recovery room. Some moms may put off trying to nurse or wait for privacy if the room is full of visitors.
Physically, the parents have most-likely both just been through an exhausting past few hours. Whether they had a surgical birth, pulled an all-nighter (or two), pushed for hours, had to make last-minute changes to their birth plans or even a smooth but intense labor, their bodies have both been through a lot through the birth. Afterward, the mother is bleeding, she may be very sore, very tired, she may be feeling after pains… All things that require her to rest, many of which require assistance from her partner or the staff. She needs to be able to express her needs but she might put off asking for help if there is a room full of visitors.
During the time the baby is sleeping, the parents should really have the opportunity to sleep as well.
Emotionally, the couple may really be needing some alone time. They may want to process the birth or need to comfort one another, especially if it was difficult or traumatic. They are also both accepting the drastic change of welcoming a new person into their family. They probably have thoughts to share or might just need some peace and quiet.
Research shows that spending that time with minimal interrupted contact with the baby increases satisfaction with the overall birth experience and can affect the mother’s long-term emotional health. The whole family needs time to bond and connect. Of course most parents want to share the joy of the new baby with loved ones, but ideally, company will stay briefly and pass the baby around minimally.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock