“Just Doing My Job”

After having all four of my babies out-of-hospital (one at a birth center, the rest at home), and seeing how much respect was given to my babies, I have a hard time believing the above statement I have heard from so many baby nurses. Baby nurses who have such a sweet demeanor, and genuinely believe that what they are doing is “best” for the babies in their care. Their intentions are good, but their training goes contrary to some of the best evidence out there regarding the critical first hour after birth.

The following paper put out by Lamaze International sums up a lot of this evidence in one document. I encourage you to read it, and check out the pages of references and the studies mentioned in this paper for yourself.

Healthy Birth Care Practice #6 ~ Lamaze International

Things You Can Do to Keep Baby With You:

  • Consider an out-of-hospital birth. The same procedures (Vitamin K, Hep B, eye ointment, etc…) are usually offered by midwives, but all of these things can WAIT. Not one of them is necessary in the first hour after birth. This is a non-issue when you’re not in the hospital. Unless there is a clear medical emergency, the midwives will stay very “hands-off” most of the time.
  • Write a Baby Plan. Don’t take for granted that, just because your birth plan was honored, that the baby nurses will know what you want for your baby. They are completely unconnected to you as a birth patient, and deal exclusively with the baby. Ideally, summarize your 5 most important priorities regarding your baby’s care, put them on a cute 3×5 card, and lay it in the warmer. When the nurse comes in, she will see it lying there, and will know your preferences. If you would like tips on how to write a baby plan, and what should be on it, feel free to email me.
  • Ask for delayed cord clamping on your birth plan. This can buy you up to 10-15 minutes to negotiate with the baby nurses. If the baby is still attached to you, they can’t take him/her.
  • Understand this basic fact: Everything CAN be done in your arms. Even deep suctioning, oxygen, exams, injections, eye ointment, etc. There is no medical reason to take the baby to the warmer, and babies nearly always do far better when they are skin-to-skin between their mother’s breasts. (Here is one example of what I’m talking about.)
  • Hold onto your baby. Simply do not let go. Kindly look at the nurse and say something like “I know you need to so some things, but he/she’s fine right now, and you can have him/her in a little while.” They cannot use physical force to take your baby from you. It’s YOUR baby. Hang on to him/her. Especially if you’ve already put your desires on paper, and they are aware of what you want.
  • Ask that baby’s first bath be given at home. If the baby is unwashed, he/she is considered a bio-hazard, and the nurses have to glove up before touching the baby. This helps keeping any skin-to-skin contact limited to Mom & Dad (or partner), and can discourage the nurses from even bothering with unnecessary contact if universal precautions have to be taken.
  • Hire a doula. A doula is able to stay clear-headed and aware during that fuzzy, hormone-driven time immediately following birth, and can remind you and your partner of what you wanted(or did not want) for your baby when the nurse begins to ask for him/her. Even if they know you want to wait a full hour, many will try to persuade you that the things that “need” to be done MUST be done NOW. That is not the case, but in your vulnerable state, you are ready to acquiesce to anything, and a doula can help call your attention, or the attention of your partner to your already-made decisions and encourage you to speak up for your baby.

As well-intentioned and kind as many of these nurses are, they simply do not feel about your baby the way that you do. They do not carry the decisions made about the care of your baby home the way you do. To them, it’s just another day at work. Just another baby poked, prodded, and scrubbed. Contrary to how these nurses approach this, caring for a baby is NOT just a “job.” It is a privilege granted (and paid for) by the parents of the child.

Also contrary to what these nurses say, babies are not “just mad” at being messed with. These procedures (needle pricks, rough towels, deep suctioning) do cause the baby discomfort and pain. Of course they scream and cry! They are hurt, frightened, naked, and totally vulnerable. They deserve far more respect than they often receive. I have personally seen the great differences between babies born at home, and babies born in a hospital.

If newborn babies were really and truly acknowledged as fully human, with the full range of human emotions and ability to feel pain by medical staff; I think the procedures deemed “necessary” immediately after birth would look vastly different than they do now. The only way that can happen at this point in time is for parents to step up and speak for these little ones who cannot speak for themselves.

“Just doing my job,” doesn’t hold water. Nearly always, what is best for baby coincides with what is best for mother as well, and what is best for both is abundantly clear – uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact for at LEAST the first hour after birth.

There is no excuse NOT to respect a baby’s and mother’s first moments together, and to truly facilitate baby-friendly practices.