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In defense of the hospital nursery

Anatoly Tiplyashin/ shutterstock

I like to joke that my son was born in 12 minutes flat.

It’s not too far from the truth: Contractions started at 5:30 p.m., I got to the hospital at 8 p.m., he was born at 8:12.

And even then, even with an “easy” — albeit unmedicated — childbirth, I was happy to send my almost 10-pound baby boy to the nearest nursery so I could get a little bit of rest afterward. I’d done the same thing two years earlier after my (thank God, smaller) daughter was born after 14 hours of labor. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but giving birth to a child is exhausting.


Nurses at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Plymouth gave me the option of keeping my son in the room if I wanted, but I chose to have him in the nursery the two nights I was there. This isn’t eight hours of shut eye, mind you: They rolled him in in his bassinet when he needed to breast-feed, which was every two hours. I fed him, my husband diapered him, and we would send him back to the nursery, repeating the cycle all over again an hour later. During the day, he was all ours, for bathing, doctors visits, and lots of snuggling. It was a day or so of peace before my husband, son, and I went home and joined my 2-year-old daughter (who was with grandma). That’s when things got real.

So I, like many mothers (check the comments), raised their eyebrows (or yelled) when reading the Globe’s recent article on local hospitals decreasing access to nurseries in favor of “rooming-in,” the term for babies staying with their mothers during the entire maternity stay. According to the article, “mothers and babies sharing a room is a key component of the ‘Baby-Friendly’ initiative launched by the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund to encourage breast-feeding.” The thinking is that if babies are with their mothers during this formative early time in their lives, breast-feeding has a better chance. (However, the research isn’t conclusive that rooming-in is vastly superior to partial rooming-in or separate care.) Hospitals can even get a “Baby-Friendly” designation.


I don’t want to get into the weeds of the breast vs. bottle debate, nor do I want to insinuate that my experience is the only appropriate one. I am sure many women choose to keep their child in their hospital room the entire stay and have a lovely experience. Let’s also be clear that this is a #firstworldproblem, and that having a baby in a safe-and-loving place is a blessing no matter what.

But policies like this take choice away from mothers about what they feel is best for them and their children. Shouldn’t mothers be the ones measuring how well they feel and how comfortable they are with their babies being down the hall?

Same idea goes for the CDC’s recent decree that all women of childbearing age who are not using birth control shouldn’t drink alcohol, even if they’re not trying to get pregnant. Essentially, this recommends that women view themselves as potential baby makers first, autonomous adults capable of making life choices second.

These are separate issues, to be sure, and both are trying to benefit children. Who can argue with a statement trying to decrease fetal alcohol syndrome? Or a policy trying to increase mother-baby bonding?


Well, I guess I am. Because it’s hard not to feel condescended to when these things are coming at you, implying that you’re not doing enough for your children or potential children.

It’s difficult enough to overcome my own mom guilt that I work full time, that my kids didn’t wear cloth diapers, and that their birthday parties aren’t worthy of Instagram. Is it too much to ask that the organizations trying to help me make informed decisions about my body and that of my child actually provide me with information to help me make informed decisions about my body and that of my child?

What I’d like to see instead is a society built around supporting families, where parents get enough time off after having a child to bond with it and facilitate breast-feeding. Where hospitals get a badge for being “family-friendly,” advising mothers on their options and the research supporting that advice instead of denying them choices.

But with a 4-year-old who likes to climb into my bed at night and thrash around, and a 1-year-old who is teething, what I’ll have to settle for is a stiff drink at the end of the night. Thank God I’m on birth control.

Heather Ciras can be reached at heather.ciras@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @heatherciras