ROOMING IN

Many hospitals have reintroduced rooming in for babies— reintroduced because nurseries are a twentieth-century refinement largely confined to the United States. I was surprised to find on a recent European trip that in most institutions the baby’s crib was attached to the foot of the mother’s hospital bed, where it had been for decades.

The ideal rooming-in setup is to have eight-bed central nurseries with rooms or wards opening into them. Then in the morning the baby’s bassinet is wheeled next to the mother’s bed, where it remains until ten at night, when the baby is taken back to the nursery so that the mother’s night may be undisturbed except for the two-o’clock nursing. Various modifications are necessary and feasible in the absence of ideal facilities. If the mother has a private room, when the baby is twenty-four hours old the bassinet is kept constantly in her room until baby and mother are discharged together. In the case of a four-bed unit, only mothers desiring rooming in are placed in it and the babies kept constantly next to them.

I feel that rooming in should be wholly optional. It is ideal for some patients and unsuited to others. In the main, the woman with a first child desires it, while the woman with a fourth child objects on the basis that she has looked forward to the hospital stay for eight months as a period free of domesticity for solid, essential rest.

Arguments in Favor

The first thing to be said in favor of rooming in is that it allows mother and baby to become fully acquainted and makes the transition from hospital to home a natural and gradual one rather than a rude and sometimes dangerous shock. The mother has become accustomed to looking after the baby completely, she has learned to diaper and bathe it, and she is even able to interpret its noises and grunts. Let us not leave the father out, because under this plan he too becomes intimately acquainted with the baby before it leaves the hospital and probably becomes a ‘diaperer’ of no mean skill. Usually the rooming-in program is combined with demand feeding, which means that the baby is either nursed or offered the bottle on its own terms, at the frequency it desires. When the baby cries and no obvious cause is apparent, it is fed. It soon learns to space its feedings quite regularly at three-, four-, or six-hour intervals, depending on the baby. The child psychiatrists feel that rooming in, breast nursing, and demand feeding (that is, feeding the baby when it cries from hunger), give the new citizen a sense of security, a neurosis-free start in life which pays dividends all through the later years. The psychiatrists’ thesis is that much of the insecurity of later life has its genesis in the nursery. A baby cries because it is hungry, yet no one pays attention to it. The infant lies alone in its chaste and impersonal surroundings, getting the idea that no one loves it. This earliest idea so deeply grooves the subconscious of some babies that the affection usually showered upon them later cannot erase it, and they are left insecure for the rest of their lives.

Arguments Against

In the rooming-in scheme visiting is restricted to the husband or to the husband and the mother, who must wear gown and mask and wash their hands before handling the baby.

Rooming in requires more nursing personnel and nurses who are anxious and capable to teach. The mothers must be carefully supervised at all times.

It is more difficult for hospitals to assign accommodations under the dual scheme—rooming in and rooming out.

Finally—the argument previously referred to—some women, particularly multiparas, do not want the inconvenience and the disturbance of rest and sleep.