By Paula Detwiller
It’s called the “magic hour”: the period just after a child’s birth when it experiences sight, touch, smell and taste for the first time. Ideally, this brand-spanking-new baby will be placed skin-to-skin on its mother’s chest while everyone, except the father, leaves the room.
The bonding begins. Dad gets his chance to bare-skin-snuggle his progeny. Often, happy tears flow. Baby quickly recognizes its parents’ voices and smells, and — according to medical studies — lives are transformed.
The “magic hour” is an important part of Bethesda Memorial Hospital’s new family-centered maternity care program. Instead of whisking the newborn off to the hospital’s nursery after delivery, mother and baby are kept together from the moment of birth. They spend the next 48 hours (72 hours in the case of a Cesarean birth) in a private room, cared for exclusively by a specially trained registered nurse. Fathers are welcome to sleep overnight in the foldout bed, and participate, along with mom, in caring for the baby.
“We’ve taken the warmers out of the nursery and put them at bedside,” says Jane McCarthy, RN, director of Bethesda’s Women and Children Services, who took charge in implementing the new protocol. “Mom can watch her baby get a bath, she can receive breastfeeding help if needed, she gets to be present for the doctor’s examination of the baby, and has lots of opportunities to ask questions.”
All of that was comfort and joy to first-time parents Brooke and Matthew Slinger of Palm Beach Gardens, whose daughter, Harper Rose, was born at Bethesda at 10:23 p.m. on July 16.
“We got here Sunday night to be induced, and it was very overwhelming,” says Brooke. “But everybody here has been so great, and the baby has not left us — I think that’s the best part, because I would have been so anxious if they had taken her away.”
Both parents enjoyed the “magic hour.”
“Labor was longer than we anticipated,” Matthew says. “It was 13 hours, and pretty hectic with so many hospital personnel checking in on us. But after the birth, it was like the seas parted and everybody went away for about an hour. It was definitely a magic hour … and I’ll never forget it.”
“It had been such a long process, it was nice to just relax with Matthew and the baby,” Brooke says. “I knew that was going to be the moment when it became real — you know, ‘Wow, that’s my baby.’ And it was really, really incredible.”
Bethesda’s new model of care for mothers and babies is based on the pioneering work of Celeste R. Phillips, RN, a highly respected national advocate of family-centered maternity care based in Santa Cruz, Calif.
Phillips’ philosophy is that the childbearing experience belongs to the family, not the caregivers. Since January, she has worked with Bethesda’s nursing staff to help them transition to this new service.
Geralyn Lunsford, RN, Bethesda Memorial’s vice president of patient services, helped make Phillips’ intervention possible. She says family-centric care is an idea whose time has come.
“When I was born, my father was in the waiting room and my mother was knocked out. That’s where we were as a society,” Lunsford says. “But today, mothers and fathers and significant others are much more engaged, and this new model of care really supports that.”
“I’m proud to be doing this work,” says McCarthy, who has helped implement the Phillips method in two northeast hospitals and one in Miami. She says babies who bond with their parents in the first hours of life are calmer, healthier, easier to breastfeed and have a higher pain threshold. And there’s another benefit that continually encourages McCarthy and the other mother-baby nurses.
“There’s lots of statistical data showing that if you put a child to a father’s chest when it’s first born, that father will remain in the child’s life for a lot longer than he would otherwise,” McCarthy says. She tells how a tough-acting, tattooed young man dissolved into sobs when the newborn he fathered was placed on his bare chest.
“In my career, I look to change society one family at a time,” she says.
Paula Detwiller is a freelance writer and lifelong fitness junkie. Find her at www.pdwrites.com.