In our clinic elevator the other day, I observed a pregnant woman and her partner debating which day of the week the woman should be induced. The partner suggested a Thursday or Friday – it’s the end of the week, he said, and they could have friends stop by the hospital during the long (often boring) induction process. Also, they’d have the weekend for visitors after the baby was born.
But the woman wasn’t so sure; she was overwhelmed at the thought of having to “entertain” visitors. Recognizing me from the clinic, she asked for my opinion. My response? Having guests in Labor and Delivery is a personal decision, and the choice depends on your modesty level, how you feel after delivery, and your baby’s health.
But don’t all moms have guests during or after childbirth?
No. Most women fall into one of two camps regarding visitors at the hospital: bring ’em all or none at all. There’s a lot going on during labor and delivery, and most women aren’t at peak perfection during this time. From dealing with labor pains to knowing how much of their body will be exposed, some women are uncomfortable having more than their partner or doula there to bear witness.
I’m a little concerned that we’ve turned labor into a spectator sport. I think that guests should be reserved for those who will provide the most support for the laboring mom. But oftentimes I see invitations being issued like you might for a wedding or graduation, and couples feel the need to make sure each side is equally represented.
If you’re on the fence about whether to have visitors as you await delivery, consider these four factors before making a guest list.
1. You’re going to be pretty exposed.
There can be a lot of activity during labor, some of which you may not want people to see. For example, your body will be exposed when nurses come in to check your cervix for dilation, when an anesthesiologist places an epidural, or when the doctor breaks your bag of water. Most women wear a hospital gown with no undergarments, and you might also have a catheter in your bladder. Sure, you can ask visitors to step out to the waiting room every time an exam is being performed or a sensitive topic is discussed, but that can get old fast.
2. You might be in considerable pain.
Depending on how you choose to handle pain management, you might not feel up to having guests in the room. While many women feel comfortable with their partner or doula seeing them deal with the pain and discomfort of labor, most don’t want friends or colleagues to see them in that state.
3. You can’t predict emergency situations.
Things can change quickly during delivery, such as the need for an emergency cesarean-section (C-section) delivery. If a problem arises that could affect the health of you or your baby, guests will have to leave the room to make way for more nursing staff members, midwives, or physicians. The focus of your health care team will be to make sure you and your partner understand exactly what is happening and what the plan is, rather than keeping your guests up to date.
4. Your doctors and nurses aren’t babysitters.
Any children you allow to visit must be supervised by an adult at all times. Make sure the person who is going to stay with you through thick and thin has no childcare responsibilities, and don’t ask the Labor and Delivery staff members to keep an eye on unsupervised children in the waiting room.
Having visitors during labor is very different than having visitors after you’ve had the baby. But just as it’s your choice prior to delivery, it’s up to you whether you invite friends or family into your recovery room.
"Having guests in Labor and Delivery is a personal decision, and the choice depends on your modesty level, how you feel after delivery, and your baby’s health."
What about having visitors after the baby is born?
If you choose to have visitors, make sure all guests are up to date on their adult immunizations. Also, ensure that no one with cold sores kisses the new baby (which can cause devastating infections in infants) or other illnesses that could be contagious to you or the baby.
If your guests pass those criteria, consider these factors before making a final decision:
1. You might be emotionally or physically vulnerable after delivery.
During recovery, mood swings are normal. You might be giddy, weepy, or a combination of both. Nurses will provide guidance on personal topics, such as caring for stitches or C-section incisions. Also, a lactation consultant will help you initiate breastfeeding, if you choose to do so, which involves some body exposure.
2. You won’t have much time to socialize.
Your doctor will make daily rounds, stopping by to check on you and the baby. Nurses will be in and out giving the baby immunizations and providing postnatal care, including a lot of education time. You’ll have forms to complete, including the birth certificate. And let’s not forget that newborn photos will be taken as well!
3. Your baby might not always be in the room.
Male babies who are to be circumcised will have their procedure in another room. Also, some women prefer to catch up on much-needed sleep by letting the baby stay with the nurses in the nursery. Coordinating these activities around a visitor schedule can be taxing, so some moms might want to wait until they go home to receive visitors.
4. Your hospital might have “quiet hours.”
Some hospitals don’t allow guests during certain times of the day or night. This structured time is designed to help parents and babies rest and have a break from postpartum activities. If you choose to invite guests, make sure to let them know when they won’t be allowed to visit.
Alternatives to in-hospital visits after delivery
If you decide not to allow visitors in the hospital, that’s OK. Friends and family members can connect with you virtually if you choose. Consider using FaceTime or Skype to show off the new baby without the pressure of having to “entertain” guests. Bonus: It’s easier to end a call than it is to shuffle people out of your room! Also, if you set a time, you know you can look your best, which is important to many new moms.
Once you get home, you can set up convenient times for visitors to stop by. Introducing your new baby to friends and family for the first time will be special regardless if it happens four hours or four days after birth. Many people love to contribute to a new mom’s well-being, so be bold – don’t feel guilty asking visitors to bring a casserole, treat, or anything else that makes your adjustment to motherhood easier. Whipping up a quick, nutritious meal is a small price to pay in exchange for newborn cuddles!
Ultimately, the choice of whether to invite guests to the hospital is yours and yours alone. It can be tough to ask well-intentioned family members and friends to stay home, but your health and your baby’s well-being are important. If you feel uncomfortable having these conversations with visitors prior to or during your stay, don’t hesitate to ask your nurse to assist. We’re happy to be the “tough guy” if necessary to aid your recovery. Whichever camp you identify with, our goal is to help moms and babies start their new chapter together as healthy and happy as can be.
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