Family Health: Couplet Care keeps newborns with moms

“Let’s go watch the babies.”

Just a few years ago, that wasn’t the mysterious suggestion it seems like today. Not only in Missoula but in hospitals across the country, pink- and blue-wrapped newborns spent their first hours in a brightly lit nursery, often behind a picture window.

As it turns out, that’s not a good thing. Research – which supports what many moms have felt all along – shows that the best place for newborn babies is in their mother’s arms.

Many hospitals have responded with a policy that is both simple and many-faceted: Couplet Care.

Staying close-very close:

As the curtains close on baby-viewing windows, opportunities open for family-centered hospital births. In fact, Couplet Care means that unless new babies are sick and need special treatment, they are never separated from their moms.

At Community Medical Center, Couplet Care starts with the delivery, which happens right in the room. Babies are immediately placed on their mom’s chest, skin to skin, which gives infants a head start toward breast feeding and other important advantages.

Healthy babies delivered by Caesarean section are also placed skin to skin with their mom, both in the surgical suite and the recovery room. And when a baby needs a procedure best done in another room – a hearing test, for example – mom comes along.

With Couplet Care, certified lactation consultants answer questions and help moms get started with breast-feeding. And family members and other significant others are a welcome part of the team.

Solid science:

If Couple Care sounds like a step back to a more homey approach to childbirth, you’re right. But the rest of the story is the science that is moving it all forward.

For one thing, breast milk is proven to provide not only the exact nutrients a newborn needs, but also to protect babies against infections and other illnesses.

Cuddling babies skin to skin is another simple concept with far-reaching effects. It helps babies regulate their temperature, breathing and heart rate. Inhaling their mom’s unique smell triggers babies’ urge to nurse. And this close contact promotes an important process – the transfer of beneficial bacteria. All babies become colonized with bacteria soon after birth. Both breast-feeding and skin-to-skin contact encourage colonization with bacteria from the baby’s own mom, rather than from other caregivers or the environment. Beneficial bacteria helps babies’ digestion and may protect against illnesses and allergies.

Research also points to some outcomes you’re likely to notice right away. Babies who get Couplet Care cry less and sleep more than those who don’t – and their mothers also get more sleep.

Baby-friendly hospitals:

As hospitals recognize the benefits of Couple Care, many are pursuing certification from the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative. Certified facilities must demonstrate policies that promote breast-feeding, skin-to-skin contact and other practices of Couplet Care. They also help mothers who can’t or choose not to breast-feed with advice about the right way to feed babies with a bottle.

If you tour a hospital that practices Couplet Care, you’re likely to see families together in comfortable rooms, friendly nurses and maybe a mom-to-be walking around as her labor progresses. Less obvious – but immediately accessible – is the sophisticated technology and skilled professionals who treat babies that need emergency care.

What you won’t see is a nursery, and that’s a good thing. It means that the babies are where they should be – with their moms.

This Family Health column has been provided by the Women’s and Newborn Center at Community Medical Center.