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  Home  > The First Year  > Myth: Hospital Nurseries Offer Newborns a Safe Haven

Myth: Hospital Nurseries Offer Newborns a Safe Haven

Fact: Given what we know about the newborn's needs and senses, hospital nurseries, particularly intensive care nurseries, are particularly stressful environments even for healthy babies.

In the early sixties, researcher-physicians noticed some babies in hospital newborn nurseries who looked as if they were sleeping or at rest were actually in a state of great anxiety, with rapid pulse and other bodily signs of distress. It was discovered that when babies cannot escape an overly stressful environment or situation, such as brightly lit, constantly noisy nurseries, unnatural aseptic smells, being stuck with needles for tests - or being harmed in their own homes - they will try to protect themselves in anyway they can. First they will begin by crying to alert someone to come to them. If no help comes, a baby may attempt to block out the awareness by shutting down, physically withdrawing into herself. Babies can cope with stressful environments, but it taxes them to do so.

The infants in our modern maternity wards, far removed from the comfort and life-giving energies of their mother's body, instead left to "rest," in isolation, in a germ-free nursery, sleep massive amounts of time. The combination of birth stresses, sensory stimuli, and isolation from the mother renders the waking state intolerable to many newborns. When time comes for a "presentation" to mother, these infants are easily awoken and typically cry heavily as they are delivered to mother - all according to hospital schedule (convenience).

Just as nature has not equipped him for the feel of steel forceps pulling him from the womb, he is not prepared for placement in a sterile, motionless, lifeless nursery crib. Having no sense of time, he cannot hope for things to change. When mother is with him, he simply feels right, connected to his lifeline and expectations. When abandoned, nothing is acceptable. Want is all there is.

Every nerve ending under his newly exposed skin craves the expected embrace, all his being, the character of all he is, leads to his being held in arms. For millions of years newborn babies have been held close to their mothers from the moment of birth. Some babies of the last few hundred generations may have been deprived of this all-important experience but that has not lessened each new baby's expectation that he will be in his rightful place (in her arms). That she (mother) has recently, in some places in the world, taken her responsibility to maintain their contact to be a matter of option, does not alter in the least the powerful urgency of the baby's need to be held. She herself is being deprived of a precious part of her own life experience, the enjoyment of which would have encouraged her to continue to behave as is most rewarding both to herself and her baby.
In mother's arms, all the agony he has undergone is nonexistent--the taste and texture of the breast are there, the warm milk is flowing into his eager mouth, there is a heartbeat--he sucks, and when he feels full and rosy, dozes off.
- Jean Liedloff

The infant who is fortunate enough to fall asleep at mother's breast, is returned to the nursery only to wake, again, in isolation. Each such awakening propels the infant into a high-stress state all over again.

He screams. He is afire from head to foot with want, with desire, with intolerable impatience...he screams... opens and closes his fists... rolls his head from side to side. Nothing helps. It is unbearable... He stops, able to suffer, unable to think, unable to hope...he falls asleep again, exhausted. - Jean Liedloff
If the infant has not fallen asleep in the fullness of his mothers embrace, when time is up (we must keep to the scheduled time and not tire mother or infant) the infant is pulled from his mother's arms and returned to the lifeless crib, nursery, and isolation, screaming.
Everyone smiles: Ah, a good lusty bellow in that one, obviously a fine, healthy one with a great future. -
Joseph Chilton Pearce

While what the newborn craves is touch, physical skin stimulus and the familiar sound of mother's heartbeat, she is placed in a lifeless basket, with a baby blanket, perhaps a teddybear or soft doll. She is learning that encounters with people cause severe stress. For the newborn, separation from mother equals abandonment:

It is impossible to overstate the monstrousness of this final violation of a new life... this isolation neatly cancels every possible chance for bonding, for relaxation of the birth stress, for the activation of the sensory system for its extra-uterine function, and for the completion of the reticular formation for full mental-physical coordinates and learning... the organism never fully recovers. All future learning is affected. The infant body goes into shock. - Joseph Chilton Pearce

The violent tearing apart of the mother-child continuum, so strongly established in the womb, may result in depression for the mother, "deprived of what nature had her exquisitely primed for, one of the deepest and most influential emotional events of her life."


Suzanne Arms, The Immaculate Deception II: Myth, Magic and Birth
Jean Liedloff, The Continuum Concept*
Joseph Chilton Pearce, Magical Child*
Thomas R. Verny MD, Preparenting: Nurturing Your Baby from Conception

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