Visiting After Birth 101

My son was born during a very big snowstorm, at the very little hospital in Bellows Falls. Clean-up had barely started the next day when a woman I barely knew popped her head in before breakfast and said, “Hey! I was getting my blood drawn and I heard you had your baby! I thought I would come say hello!”

Privacy rules have changed, so that might not happen today. But over the past fifty years or so, there have been lots of changes in hospitals. Here’s a walk back in time, and some thoughts about the up side and down side of open visiting hours. I’d be glad to hear your thoughts and stories!

OB Visiting-circa 1952 – Visiting hours were usually an hour or so in the afternoon and another hour or so in the evening. Babies were generally brought to mom only for feedings. Dad held his baby for the first time after they got home. Visitors would crowd around the nursery window for a brief glimpse of the baby as the nurse would either hold it up or wheel the crib to the window. Children under 12 were not allowed on the OB floor, or anywhere in the hospital. Moms would wave to their other children out the window. They would not see those children for up to ten days (while they “recovered”)!

OB Visiting-circa 1977 – Rooming in was a new concept. Dad and immediate family (though not always young siblings-they were still often banished from the OB unit) had longer visiting hours – say, 10 AM to 9 PM. They could be in the room with baby. There were still general visiting hours much like in the 50’s with baby whisked back to the nursery during that time. Nurses often had to function as “visitor police” being sure that only family members were in room with baby.

OB Visiting-2000 – How things have changed! Anyone can visit any time (including not only siblings, but other small children as well), twenty four hours a day. Babies stay in the room and any visitors can hold baby. Nurses no longer serve as “visitor police” – after all, birth is a celebration. Why not invite the people who love you to the party?

OB Visiting – 2006 – Moms are exhausted. There are a couple of outbreaks of pertussis (whooping cough) in the area, and bird flu looms on the horizon. Hospitals begin re-thinking their open visitors policy, not just in OB but throughout the hospital. Immediate family members are still welcome any time of the day or night, at the new family’s discretion, but friends and other family are asked to visit during hospital visiting hours.

OB visiting – 2012 – The aftermath of H1N1: Hospital visiting hours has changed to 11-8. And in the Birthing Center, no children allowed under 12 years old, except siblings. Sometimes you can see the scowls when we say, “You are welcome to have your child play in the waiting room” – but the “bugs” have gotten stronger, and this is a good way to keep babies a little safer while their immune systems mature. Of course, dads and partners are part of the birthing party, not visitors.

Are these changes for the better or not?

Certainly it is nice to be able to have your visitors come when it is convenient for them so they don’t have to schedule a visit during very limited times. Dad and the rest of the family have the opportunity to get to know the baby before discharge. On the other hand, with increased hours available for visitors, it seems the number of visitors often increases to fill the time available. Just because they can visit almost any time doesn’t mean that it is appropriate to have a roomful of visitors all day long!

During the short time a new mom is in the hospital after delivery, there are three very important goals she must achieve. The first is to give herself the privacy to fall madly in love with her baby. The second is to get a good start on her physical recovery. The second is to learn to care for herself and her baby.

These needs should take precedence over visitors. Admittedly, a new mom loves to relate the story of her labor and birth. In addition, it feels good when everyone “oohs and aahs” over the baby. However, as a result of too many visitors, mom often misses out on opportunities to get some much-needed rest during the day. Then when her baby needs her at night she is too tired. New moms are often too overwhelmed and exhausted to speak up for themselves. This is an important role for mom’s primary support person.

Another problem is the entertainment factor, and the way it interferes with learning your baby’s signals. Aunt Lucy is holding the baby and the baby is fussing. Aunt Lucy knows why – the baby needs a burp. After all, that’s what she did with her kids. But wait! The baby has been eating her fists for ten minutes, and Aunt Lucy has been ignoring her early feeding cues. And now, can we clear the room while mom breastfeeds? (Don’t get me started. I’d be glad to teach the whole room about breastfeeding, and if you don’t mind being part of the show, let’s do it!)

Plan Ahead

Plan ahead now about how you want to handle the question of visitors.

Do you want them in the hospital waiting room while you are in labor? Should they be in the hallway waiting to hear the baby’s first cry? We have had nurses feel threatened by the hallway family when we say, “You can’t go in there!” If the placenta isn’t born yet, keep out!

After a cesarean, your birthing center room is your recovery room. This is very confusing for the hallway family. “Why can’t we see her?” Well – she’s in the recovery room! Let’s make sure she’s breathing and her heart rate is regular and she knows her name before we all go in. And maybe she’d like to see her baby alone for a while!

You are under no obligation to entertain all of your local relatives and friends in the first day or so after giving birth. Select a few of those most important to you to visit briefly while you are here. (One family even had a “lottery” and drew names to see who could visit first.) Let the others know you look forward to seeing them and showing off your new baby, but you need some time by yourselves at first to get your new (or newly enlarged) family off to a solid start. They certainly should be able to understand. If they don’t, it’s their problem, not yours.

Don’t be afraid to ask visitors to leave if you are feeling exhausted or if baby needs to nurse and you aren’t comfortable nursing in front of the company. In addition, your nurse needs to be sure you can care for yourself and baby at home, whether it’s new to you or you need a quick review. When possible, nurses try to arrange these teaching sessions around your visitors, but if you “always” have visitors, she will either have to ask them to leave or do the teaching with them in the room.

Take advantage of the times when baby is sleeping to catch a short nap for yourself. Put the “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door. You can take it down when you are ready for company. You might want to let your nurse know you will be napping. There may be some things she needs to do with you at a particular time (like vital signs or giving a medication). Most things can be done a little earlier or a little later to allow you time to rest. By letting her know you’ll be snoozing, she can plan around your needs.

Once you get home, you will probably still want to avoid having either a steady stream of visitors or a whole houseful. Tell your friends and family you will let them know when you are up to having company. It wasn’t too many years back that women stayed in the hospital as long as 2 weeks after an uncomplicated delivery. This is certainly not necessary now, but you might want to think of yourself as “recovering at home” for that same time.

Some new moms find it helpful to have a bathrobe handy by the front door. Even if you get dressed during the day, put the bathrobe on before you greet company. It serves as a subtle reminder that you still need your rest. Otherwise they may expect you to entertain them, serve tea and cookies, etc! In fact – don’t offer refreshments!

Another suggestion is to have an “admission price” to see the baby.

The admission consists of doing a small task to help you out. It might be running a load of laundry, washing up the pile of dishes in the sink or stopping at the store on the way to pick up a loaf of bread. Don’t be afraid to put a “sleeping, do not disturb” sign on your door or take the phone off the hook when you get the opportunity to nap during the day.

It’s wonderful when friends and family are there to help your baby discover a wonderful word full of love and caring. Plan now to help them remember that’s what they’re going to do!

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