Nurses: Give baby to Mommy

Krista Benjamin is a Douglas County elementary school teacher.

Putting a naked newborn on his mother’s breast and leaving him there begins the bonding between mother and child—and warms the baby to the proper temperature, according to pediatrician Marshall Claus, author of Parent-Infant Bonding.

But when my niece was born recently at a hospital in Reno, she was wrapped in a blanket and whisked away right after the umbilical cord was cut. My sister, when she could finally sit up after a long clean-up process, held her bundled newborn for a token 15 minutes of mostly unsuccessful breast-feeding. The nurse then took the baby’s temperature, announced that it was low, and moved my niece to the nursery. There she writhed dry and naked under a heating lamp, along with 15 other newborns. It looked like a brave, new hatchery, without a parent to be seen.

The nurse patiently explained to the father and me that before a bath, the baby’s temperature needed to rise, because it would fall again after the bath. We asked why the baby so urgently needed a bath, since she looked clean. The nurse replied that babies get “exposed to a lot of things” in the birth canal.

“That’s just how the doctors want it, to keep the babies safe,” she said.

To me, the babies appeared to be physically safe, but what about emotional safety? I’m no infant expert, but as a mammal, it’s obvious to me that the most natural place for a perfectly healthy newborn like my niece is in her mother’s arms. It must be traumatic enough leaving the womb without spending the first several hours of life alone under a lamp.

The delivery nurse herself told us that it is best if a baby breastfeeds successfully during the first two hours. But making this happen didn’t seem to be a priority for anyone that day in the maternity ward. Each person had a job to do. Bonding would just have to wait.

The assembly-line system spits out physically healthy mothers and babies right on schedule, and the hospital avoids lawsuits by weighing, measuring, testing, bathing and monitoring temperatures. But what about parent-child attachment and emotional health? Wouldn’t it be better for families in Northern Nevada if bonding immediately after birth was the top priority? Women I know who have given birth at hospitals in other states have experienced a much more humane beginning of parenthood. Their healthy newborns stayed in their arms, and the babies were briefly checked on a cart wheeled into the room only after hours of successful breastfeeding.

Since his efforts to take the baby back to my sister were unsuccessful, my niece’s father stayed with his daughter in the nursery. The nurses moved her to the front of the line, bathed her and put her back under the lamp. Her temperature shot up to 99, but they graciously did not insist on cooling her down before giving her to her parents for the night. Many of those newborns spent their whole first night of life alone, so I’m glad my niece was away from her mother for only a couple of hours. Even those two vital hours of separation could have been avoided if the baby was put naked on her mother’s breast and left there.