Your new baby has quite a busy schedule after birth. Within the first two days, he may receive vitamin K injections, immunizations, blood sugar tests, hearing tests and screening for a number of genetic diseases.
Although this care is crucial, it may interfere with essential mother-infant bonding. It is astounding that we humans are the only mammals separated from our infants at birth. In fact, many mammalian infants have poor survival rates when not in direct contact with their mothers just after birth.
Over the past 30 years there has been a great amount of research on the postpartum period. Two practices have been found to increase mother and baby health, along with bonding: rooming in and skin-to-skin contact. With rooming in, your baby is kept with you during your hospital stay. He does not sleep in the nursery. Skin-to-skin contact is having your naked baby lay on your bare chest as much as possible. Scientific data support that there are many benefits to both rooming in and skin-to-skin contact.
The typical postpartum hospital stay is two days for a vaginal delivery and three days for a C-section. During this time you are learning about swaddling, bathing, breastfeeding and bonding with your newborn. This period is also important for learning newborn cues. Rooming in allows a greater opportunity to understand these cues.
For example, a baby in the nursery may begin to cry due to discomfort or hunger. The nursery staff will attempt to soothe him, then bring him to his mother if he is due for a feeding. There is a good chance he will arrive crying, and his mother will begin a feeding to settle him.
The newborn has already given many subtle, less frantic cues that he is hungry — such as restlessness, sucking on his fingers and mouthing motions. Because he has been in the nursery, his mother has not had a chance to learn these cues, and will now begin to feed him with a decreased chance of successful nursing due to his frantic state. This, in turn, will increase her stress.
Rooming in prevents missing out on this learning experience, and promotes utilizing the resources available for those crucial two-to-three days to establish breastfeeding, understand your baby’s feeding cues, and soothe and bond with your newborn.
Adequate postpartum maternal sleep has always been a concern. Keeping a newborn in the nursery was once considered a way of providing time for a mother to get some much-needed rest. Interestingly, studies have shown that there is no evidence she will get more sleep when her baby is in the nursery compared to in her hospital room. There simply does not seem to be any downside to rooming in for either mother or child.
Rooming in also increases the opportunity for the essential skin-to-skin time after birth, important both emotionally and physically for you and your baby. When lying skin-to-skin, your newborn senses your familiar pheromones, experiences a soothing sound familiar to that heard in the womb and is kept warm in this natural environment. This increases bonding and leads to increases in your oxytocin levels, a hormone that decreases stress levels and increases positive maternal feelings. Studies also show that babies cry significantly less when avoiding maternal-infant separation and establishing an early skin-to-skin routine.
A study also found that babies who have early sustained skin-to-skin contact have higher success rates in breastfeeding. Despite all the research we have on the positive effects of breastfeeding, many moms are still unable to do so, even with their best efforts. Some mothers face issues such as low milk supply and incorrect latch that result in difficulty
sustaining breastfeeding. Rooming in and immediate skin-to-skin contact can counteract or even prevent some of these obstacles.
Having a baby is exciting, stressful and challenging. Since rooming in and skin-to-skin contact have many physiological and emotional benefits, promoting a healthy beginning to your lifetime together may be worth the effort during your hospital stay.
Aisling Lydeard, WHNP, is a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner at the Dimock Center, Roxbury, MA.