Breaking News: Are Hospital Nurseries on Their Way Out?

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An increasing number of hospitals nationwide are now doing away with the traditional nursery and encouraging new moms to stay with their babies around the clock immediately after birth.

An increasing number of hospitals nationwide are now doing away with the traditional nursery and encouraging new moms to stay with their babies around the clock immediately after birth. Tina Babbitt, RN, MSN, IBCLC, manager of the breastfeeding center at Indiana University Health, explains what’s driving this trend and what it means for moms-to-be.

Why hospitals are making the change

The elimination of the traditional nursery is part of a larger effort called the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, a program developed by UNICEF and the World Health Organization in 1991 to promote breastfeeding and ultimately improve infant mortality rates around the world. To earn the baby-friendly designation, hospitals must follow ten guidelines, including helping mothers initiate breastfeeding within one hour of birth, not giving pacifiers to breastfeeding babies, and encouraging “rooming in”—having moms and babies share a room for their entire hospital stay.

“The goal is to provide the best maternity care based on scientific evidence,” says Babbitt. Rooming in was included in the guidelines (regardless of feeding method),because it helps women learn to care for their baby and recognize their newborns’ feeding cues. It is about hospitals supporting new families.

The "No Nursery Debate"

Critics of rooming in say that women should be able to send their baby to a nursery so they can rest after going through hours of grueling labor. But Babbitt stresses that that’s still an option at baby-friendly hospitals. “Safety is the priority,” she says. “You’d never want a mother to fall asleep with a baby in her arms.” Women can choose to send their newborn to a nursery-like “treatment room” so they can sleep until the baby’s next feeding. Nurses are also trained to identify which mothers might need these breaks, such as those who don’t have a friend or family member to help them.

How IU Health Fits In

Four Indiana University Health hospitals have earned the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative certification: Methodist (the first and largest hospital in Indiana to achieve the designation), Bloomington, and Ball. “Getting the certification is like getting an Oscar,” says Babbitt. “It means you’ve taken maternity care to the highest level.” That’s a particularly important achievement in Indiana, which has a high infant mortality rate.

Implementing baby-friendly practices in hospitals—particularly encouraging breastfeeding, which is associated with better health outcomes for babies and mothers—plays a vital role in lowering it. “One of the state health commissioner’s goals is to increase breastfeeding rates, and IU Health is leading the charge,” says Babbitt. The CDC also supports the guidelines set by the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative and now requires hospitals to complete a survey called mPINC (Maternity Practices in Infant Nutrition and Care) every two years to monitor practices related to maternity care.

Though it may seem like women’s choices are being limited, Babbitt emphasizes that moms are still the decision-makers. “You can send your baby to a treatment room, no questions asked. If you choose not to breastfeed), nurses educate you on how to formula-feed,” she says. “We would never want a mother to feel like she doesn’t have options. It is not an all or nothing proposition."

-- By Jessica Brown

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