Family Health: Babies, parents stay close with couplet care

Back in the day, the first look a father got of his newborn was often through a picture window, looking at rows of pink and blue bundles. He may even have had trouble picking his baby out from the crowd.

Hospital births have come a long way since then. Many hospitals now make birthing a family affair, with moms following their own birthing plans in birthing suites that feel more like home. Some hospitals go a step further with a policy that’s both new and traditional: couplet care.

With couplet care, newborn babies don’t leave their mothers unless they are sick and need special treatment. 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 them important health advantages such as a head start with breast-feeding. Healthy babies delivered by Cesarean section are also placed skin-to-skin with their mom, both in the surgical suite and the recovery room.

When a baby needs a procedure best done in another room – a hearing test, for example – mom comes along. Certified lactation consultants come to the room to answer questions and help moms get started with breast-feeding. 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. And family members and significant others are a welcome part of the team.

All this can seem like a step back in time, to a more homey approach to childbirth – and it is. But it’s backed up by solid science. For example, breast milk is proven to provide not only the exact nutrients a newborn needs, but also to protect babies against infections and other illnesses. And studies show that cuddling babies skin-to-skin helps them regulate their temperature, breathing and heart rate. Couplet care also promotes the transfer of beneficial bacteria from mom to baby – a process that helps babies’ digestion and immune system. 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.

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 – are the sophisticated technology and skilled professionals who treat babies that need emergency care. At Community Medical Center’s Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, for example, the staff and physicians care for premature and very ill babies while still focusing on a family-centered environment.

What you won’t see with couplet care is a dad searching for his baby behind the nursery window. Fathers and the rest of the family know right where to find the new baby – in mom’s arms.