Beware of "Baby Friendly"
It's sounds innocent, doesn't it? After all, what's not to like about a term that supports kindness to our smallest citizens. The latest headlines state that hospitals boast baby friendly initiatives and I find myself raising my hand and shouting, "Yes!", but then I read the fine print and I begin to feel heart palpitations and I remember.
Three years ago, my fourth child was due any day and while languishing at the pool watching my older three children frolic and fight, a good friend and new mother casually mentioned the policy she had encountered at our small town hospital in Eastern NC. Now, let me just say, I adore our hospital and my birth experience each time had been perfectly wonderful. The nurses were kind and helpful, supportive in my mothering and nursing, found me snacks and brought me cold water and soothed my very sore you know what.
They also co-mothered my newborns; they encouraged me to hold and cuddle them as long as I liked and then whisked them away for checks and their first bath. A yummy baby was delivered back to me, swaddled and content. What is wrong with this picture? In my feeble memory, not one thing. Later in the evenings, I shipped my darlings to the nursery, requested a delicious Ambien, and told the nurse to bring the little person back to me when they were ready to eat. Your wish is my command the kind nurse may as well said and I nursed a few times in the night and awoke rested and refreshed. Again, what's not to like?
The new "baby friendly" initiative being embraced by hospitals around the country dashes the hopes and dreams of all new mothers. Hope is gone for the first time mothers and the ones that return again and again, like myself and look forward to the night nursing which is complimentary of your stay. No more, my friend told me casually as I struggled to sit my obscenely pregnant self up on a pool float. It would not be proper to recount the torrent of obscenities I unleashed, but it is my truth. The following day, I marched my big old self right down to the hospital where, at this point, I knew most everyone.
The nurses happily rang me into the maternity ward and we exchanged pleasantries, my pregnancy and inquired about one another's families and then, I pounced. Like a viper, I didn't beat around the bush and in no uncertain terms, told them I had heard a terrible rumor and had made this pilgrimage to verify these rumblings being passed off as facts, certainly meant to scare mothers from hospitals and encourage home births perhaps. They paused, hesitated, hemmed and hawed, sought help from one another in sideways glances and then, nodded and admitted, the world was coming to an end as I knew it. Most us will never spend such an obscene amount for an overnight and suddenly our complimentary child care option has been thrown to the wolves.
I was not surprised though, as I trusted my college friend's report, and taking this news in stride, I moved onto the most crucial query. What exceptions were available? I stood my ground and explained my need to make sure that this policy was not written in stone and alas they admitted that my doctor could make a medical request for me. I said my goodbyes and headed to his office where I caught him unaware after slipping in the back door of his practice and waiting in his office. Surprisingly, he hadn't been told about this new "friendly" policy and assured me, he would be my advocate. Do you know how much I love him?
My fourth child arrived and the nurses took him to the nursery when I begged and unlike my first three children, he was a dream and slept nestled in my shirt. They would take him every so often but it was not without my pleading and recovering from my emergency c-section and pre-eclampsia was not for the faint of heart. In all seriousness, I can attest that this "baby friendly" policy left this experienced mother of four, high and dry, alone in a hospital for five days, and with little help for my newborn. My husband was working and taking care of our other three children and so he would come in the evenings, but that was not enough. I remember calling my mother in tears and asking her to come back; she did and all was well, but that shouldn't have been necessary and what about the moms without a support network? What about the mothers that don't beg and advocate for themselves?
Amy Tuteur, a Harvard-trained OB-GYN and the author of "Push Back: Guilt in the Age of Natural Parenting," conceded that rooming in may help increase breastfeeding, but doesn't find it helpful for new moms, who she argues, should have a nursery option. I have always been fond of Harvard and this statement from one of their own clenched my forever faithfulness; not only do they abhor the term retarded but also chastise hospitals for eliminating the rights of mothers to sleep during their stay.
Mothers, stand up for yourselves and fight, for yourself and all of those that come after you. Be careful of phrases that are purely surface and when you encounter "baby friendly", think critically.