As the 20th century ends, almost all births in the U.S. are occurring in hospitals. Lengths of stay for normal vaginal births range from 24 to 48 hours—a very brief period time in the overall life of a family. Much happens before and after this short hospitalization that determines how a woman will experience birth and how she will parent.
Mother-baby nursing is an approach to providing care within the immediate postpartum period that offers significant benefits to both providers and recipients of that care. It is a model of care that is one part of a comprehensive program to implement family-centered maternity care (FCMC). And while mother-baby care is one aspect of family-centered care, it’s only one means to achieve the best quality of care for mothers and their newborns during the hospital postpartum experience.
Mother-baby nursing is a nursing strategy that promotes the family’s role as primary caregiver for their newborn. In mother-baby nursing (also known as couplet care), one nurse cares for both a postpartum mother and her newborn. Both physiologically and psychologically, the newborn and postpartum mother are viewed as an interdependent couplet.
Mother-baby nursing can be defined as the delivery of safe, quality health care that recognizes, focuses on, and adapts to the physical and psychosocial needs of the new mother, the family,
, and becoming a mother requires major changes. During the early transition to parenthood, a mother must learn to relate to and care for a newborn while her sense of self and relationships changes. Most mothers of newborns experience fatigue and pain that can interfere with their ability to learn . And, of course, the newborn is making a transition to life outside the womb while learning what to expect from the world through experiences with caretakers.
At the same time, family members are readjusting to their new roles. This period in family formation is a developmental opportunity during which family members can benefit from the supporting solidarity of the family unit.
Mother-baby nursing incorporates family members into the bedside care of mother and newborn. It includes both mother-newborn bonding and attachment theory.
The mother-baby nurse teaches while providing bedside care, thus the time of discharge doesn’t become a time of information overload for the new mother and the nursing staff. Instead of the familiar scenario in which the frustrated, harried nurse faces multiple discharges with a checklist of necessary items to teach, the teaching has been completed systematically as mother and newborn care was provided at the mother’s bedside from admission through discharge.
Using the limited postpartum hospital time to her or his advantage, the mother-baby nurse integrates the mother’s and newborn’s physical care with the education needed in both postpartum self-care and care of the newborn. Mother-baby nurses also help mothers identify support systems and provide opportunities for family members to interact with their newborn (Blank, Schroeder, & Flynn, 1995). Because mother-baby nursing benefits mothers and newborns, it’s important to encourage mothers to keep their newborns with them at their bedsides.
Mother-baby care is also more than just “rooming-in.” Because confusion exists as to what constitutes mother-baby care and rooming-in, it’s important to distinguish the terms. “Rooming-in” is the term applied to the hospital arrangement in which the mother chooses to have her newborn by her bedside and to take care of the newborn herself.