The day after I gave birth to my daughter, Olivia, I decided to take her for a walk down the hall. Within seconds, nurses came flying at me from every direction and herded me frantically back to my room. I had unwittingly set out for my walk carrying Olivia in my arms—a huge no-no, they told me, because I could become dizzy and fall due to blood loss. Most hospitals insist that you stroll with your baby in her wheeled bassinet. Who knew?
As your due date draws near, you’re probably an expert on all things pregnancy, including how to negotiate with hospital staff when it comes to your birth preferences. Chances are, though, you’re not as clear on what your hospital stay will be like after your baby makes her entrance. Knowing what’s up can make that time a lot more enjoyable. Here’s how it usually plays out.
The First Hour
In some hospitals, unless you specify otherwise, the baby is cleaned and evaluated immediately after delivery. Many women, however, prefer to hold their babies straight from the womb. “The first hour after birth is when the baby is most awake and alert,” says Joyce McKeever, M.S., R.N., I.B.C.L.C., L.C.C.E., clinical program manager for the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative and director of clinical services at the Center for Breastfeeding at Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune, N.J. “It’s a great time to get acquainted by holding your baby skin-to-skin on your chest and to start breastfeeding, which helps the mom’s uterus contract and reduces bleeding immediately after delivery.”
When writing your birth plan or discussing the delivery with your doctor or midwife, specify how you want that first hour to go, says Meagan Francis, a mother of four and co-author of One Year to an Organized Life with Baby (Da Capo Press).
“If the baby is healthy, most everything can be put off a little while to give you one-on-one time,” she says. For example, you may want to delay having antibiotic drops placed in your baby’s eyes—a standard post-birth procedure that can blur her vision temporarily. As with all medical care, you have the right to question or refuse any treatment that doesn’t sit right with you.
After you’ve delivered the placenta and have been stitched up if you had an episiotomy or tear (or your Cesarean section is complete), you might be transferred to a postpartum room. Others offer LDRP (labor, delivery, recovery and postpartum) rooms.
More and more hospitals are embracing “family-centered care,” offering private postpartum rooms that include a fold-out bed for your partner. Rooming-in, or having your baby with you at all times, is also increasingly popular, and in some hospitals, it’s obligatory. While this practice provides a nice opportunity to bond with your baby, it’s also OK to let her spend a few hours in the nursery while you sleep. If you do so, tell the nurses whether they can give your baby formula or you want her returned to you for feedings.
If you’d like to breastfeed but it’s not coming easily, ask to see a lactation consultant. (Large hospitals usually have one on staff.) It may also help to adopt a “no visitors” policy while breastfeeding, says Portland, Ore.- based maternal health nurse Jeanne Faulkner, R.N. “Some babies—and moms—need peace and privacy to learn the big job of nursing,” she says.