How many times have you been to the hospital to visit a family member or friend who just had a baby? Hoping or expecting to hold that new warm little baby and get some good cuddles in before reluctantly handing the little bundle back to their parents?
I know I have been eager to see the new little soul that have entered the world, and even hoped I could hold him/her for a little bit.
Only when I HAD a baby did I realize how stressful it is for baby and mother, when groups of family members and friends travel into the recovery room after the birth, to witness you precious little baby and hold him/her for a while. My firstborn cried for an hour and were very unsettled after the visits, and I realized he might have gotten a bit stressed from it all, but this is how everyone did, so we invited people to the hospital to see him AND show him off!
However, even though these well-intentioned first visits in the days after birth are common and kind of a standard operating procedure, it does not benefit mother and baby, and here is why:
1. That first hour after birth is the most important one. More and more research shows, that this is where baby connect to mom, to increase the oxytosin levels, initiate milk flow in mom, encourage breastfeeding response in baby, stabilize breathing, body temperature and blood sugar levels. The "old fashioned" way of whisking baby off to be weighed, measured and examined, may result in a stressed baby.
Oxyosin is a feel good hormone that is stimulated in all of us by skin contact. For new babies it is a crucial hormone and one that have shown to decrease crying in newborns due to above mentioned physical stabilizations (stabilizing breathing, body temperature and blood sugar levels). For mother it is just as important, as oxytosin stimulates uterine contractions, which help deliver the placenta right after the birth of baby. When the woman births the placenta naturally, it prevents blood loss and assists in getting the milk flowing, so she can nurture baby.
2. As I mentioned above, breastfeeding during that first hour is quite important for the baby. Often they actually nurse really well right after birth, even if they have some trouble later on. Breast feeding is often not something that comes naturally, which was a bit of a surprise for me back then, it needs to be practiced! And those hours and days after birth is where mother and baby needs to practice. Because baby's belly is so small, they will nurse frequently. This may be interrupted by visitors, just by their presence. The more baby nurses, the more milk will be produced. Classic supply and demand.
During breast feeding, baby's oxytosin levels increase, as well as mothers oxytosin levels. Nursing is very comforting and soothing for baby, as they try to adjust to the new environment where body heat is something they need to learn to do themselves. Until they get a hang of it however, they rely on mom or dad to "indicate" with their body temperature how much is enough.
3. If baby is stressed from visitors, they may fall asleep as a coping mechanism, and sleep through dirty diapers and feeding times. Since breast milk often is the only source of nutrients and hydration the baby gets, skipping a few meals can cause dehydration and loss of weight. Most hospitals will allow for a maximum of 10% loss of body weight during the first 5 days. Then they get very attentive and will push for supplement formula until baby is back on track. So if your baby reacts by sleeping when you have visitors at the hospital or at home, you may want to cut back on visitors and just cuddle up with baby for a little while.
4. Giving birth is not an easy job. All parents know this. Right after these intense hours, everybody needs their rest. Although a bunch of hormones are released in mom's brain after giving birth and holding baby to cope with the loss of sleep, she still needs sleep and peace. With baby wanting food often (as in a couple of times an hour in the beginning), there is not much sleep for the doting parents. Again a bunch of visitors create enough disturbance to reduce the rest time dramatically. Sometimes it's fantastic to get visitors, so don't just exclude them, but gently tell them when you need to rest, or have your wonderful partner do the "honors" of showing them out.
5. Last but not least, the birth experience and meeting the baby for the first time is enough to make a grown man and woman get a little teary. The love that suddenly explode in your heart and the protectiveness you suddenly feel is a bit overwhelming. Most couples need some well deserved alone time with the new little person who have entered their lives. Alone time with baby actually increase mothers emotional health, and who knows, maybe it's contributing to prevent Postnatal depression.
So family and friends, visits should be very short. Bring a dish of food for the parents, and don't necessarily stay to eat with them, but if they ask you to, clean up the dishes and go. Don't linger ;-) Only hold baby minimally, you will get time later I'm sure, and obviously, bring chocolate ;-D