What Really Happens to Babies in the Hospital Nursery

newbornYou've just done the hard work of delivering your baby. Congratulations! The cord is cut, your baby is cleaned off, and you're handed your baby -- and then your baby is whisked off to a mystical place called the nursery. (Usually.) What then -- how is your baby cared for, and what else happens in the nursery? So much! Here's what your baby can expect during their stay.


1. Evaluation. Within the first few minutes of life, your baby will be given an Apgar score based on things like their heart rate, reflexes, and skin tone (often conducted before your baby is taken to the nursery, actually). Staff will examine your baby for other issues, like jaundice. There will be a blood test to screen for birth defects and other issues, and there will be a hearing test. While your baby is in the nursery, staff will constantly monitor things like their bowel movements, temperature, and responsiveness to make sure everything is all right.

2. Preventative care. It's become standard for babies to get a vitamin K shot soon after birth. Your baby will also be immunized. The hepatitis vaccine is standard, but there may be others. Your baby will be given eye drops to prevent infection. And your baby will be more thoroughly washed. 

3. Pediatrician visit. In addition to the care provided by hospital staff, your pediatrician will examine your baby at some point as well.

4. Comfort. You've seen those cute little caps babies get! In addition to those, babies in nurseries will usually be kept under heat lamps until their temperature rises and remains at 98 degrees. Then they are ready to be swaddled and taken back to parents for a visit or to stay.

5. Feeding. This depends on what you, the mother, specify. If you say you want to breastfeed, the staff should be facilitating that by bringing your baby to you at regular intervals and even (fingers crossed, depending on where you live) providing you with assistance. Otherwise, staff will feed your baby formula on a schedule. They will also be evaluating your baby to make sure he or she is feeding well and doesn't seem to have any digestive or other feeding-related issues.

6. Sleep. Your newborn will spend much of the time in the nursery sleeping. At this stage, babies sleep around nine hours total in the day and eight hours total at night, but they're waking every three to four hours to eat.

7. Length of stay. This is partly up to you. Typically, even if you want your baby with you for most of your remaining hospital stay, your baby may still spend an hour and a half in the nursery as his or her body temperature rises. If you want, your baby can stay in the nursery overnight (usually).

More and more hospitals are offering in-room nursery care. The belief is that babies benefit from more bonding time with their parents. If you're planning to breastfeed, it's easier to attend to those frequent feedings if your baby is in the room with you. Either way, it's a good idea to find out what your hospital's typical practice is, and be sure to make your own wishes known.

Do you prefer to send your baby to the nursery or to room-in?


Image via Matt Culpepper/Flickr

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