Excerpted from Birth as an American Rite of Passage
Four to Twelve Hour Separation
Description and Official Rationale
The routine separation of mother and infant after birth accompanied the movement of birth into the hospital. The baby was immediately removed to the nursery; the mother, after a recovery period, was placed in a hospital room. Epidemics were common, and the nursery was regarded as a fortress against the germs brought into the hospital by the mother and her visitors. According to one obstetrician I interviewed, this policy also meshed well with the routine use of scopolamine for labor and birth, as the mother was quite literally unable to care for her baby for some time after its delivery. Its continuance today, often after a brief "bonding period," reflects both past precedent and current events-- many mothers are still too anesthetized after their births to be able to care well for their babies, visitors still bring germs into the hospital, and it is a fact of institutional life that the nurses have to do a good deal of paperwork concerning the baby, which they feel best-equipped to take care of in the nursery.
Aside from whatever may or may not be the physiological effects of separating babies from their mothers, there are some clear physiological effects of putting babies in hospital nurseries: infectious strains of bacteria and viruses often run rampant in spite of all precautions, resulting in epidemics among the babies; bottle-feeding newborns with sugar water is common procedure even for those babies whose mothers wish to breastfeed them (sugar can lower immunity to disease); and bright lights burn constantly, disrupting the babies' womb-developed sleeping patterns.
They let me nurse Joseph immediately--my second one. And they put him up on the delivery table with me. And I nursed him for thirteen minutes. And then when they took him away, the nurse had to help me break the suction on him. And he cried his heart out when they took him away. Supposedly they have to take him to the nursery to check him. Supposedly. They want to--the nurses feel like it's their baby instead of your baby, and they want to get them warm. They feel like they'll lose their body temperature, and they want to check them. I didn't see him for eight hours.
What society gives, society can take away. The four-to-twelve- hour ritual separation of mother and child after birth and bonding still common in many hospitals powerfully reminds the mother that her baby belongs to society first. By sending the mother this message now, this procedure interrupts the powerful feelings generated in her by holding the newborn baby, working to ensure that she will be willing to give her baby over to society's institutions (hospitals for its medical care, schools for its socialization) for the rest of its life.
© Robbie Davis-Floyd PhD Used with Permission
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