The birth experience in hospitals is a lot different today than it was a decade ago. In years past, newborn babies were kept in the hospital’s nursery after birth where they were cared for by specialized nurses. Now, with the increase of women opting to breastfeed and with a greater emphasis on mother-infant bonding, most babies spend all the hours of their first days in their mother’s hospital room.
For the most part, this new arrangement is excellent for the well-being of mothers and their babies. Mothers get to spend those critical bonding hours with their newborn and the babies start their lives feeling secure and loved.
But a new problem has come with this shift. Sometimes, when the mother, or another caregiver, is holding the baby, they can unexpectedly fall asleep and drop their baby. In some cases, the baby simply slides from the caretakers’ hands to the floor.
After one of our new mothers dropped her infant after falling asleep in bed, I became concerned about the issue. My research showed an uptick in hospitals around the country reporting similar experiences. Nurses from many institutions around the country were publicly sharing their experiences and plans to reduce the risk of infant falls.
It is a traumatic experience for all involved. Not only can the baby be injured, but parents and nurses will likely be filled with guilt. While no one is to blame in such instances, we still want to get out a strong message to new parents that such falls are preventable.
Causes of infant falls in hospitals
The birth process can be lengthy and exhausting. Some women are in labor for hours upon hours and sometimes miss at least one night’s sleep. In addition, we often administer pain medications to the woman. These medications can exacerbate the drowsiness caused from sleep deprivation. And it is not just mothers who may be impacted. New dads and other family members also might be exhausted by the time the big moment arrives.
After the birth, mothers want to hold their babies. It’s one of the most joyous times of their lives. But sometimes the mother, or another caretaker, is sleepy and loses hold of the baby. Some parents think the safest place for a baby is in the hospital bed with the mother. This is not true. The beds are not designed to contain a newborn.
Preventing infant falls in hospitals
The safest place for your baby is in his or her bassinet, especially when you are feeling tired. But it is important to know that you may not recognize how tired you actually are. Handing the infant over to a trusted, alert person in the room also is a good option.
The safety of your newborn is critical. Do not feel guilty about returning your infant to the bassinet. Dads, remember, mom is a patient, too, and she needs time to recover from the delivery.
The hospital staff also works to help prevent infant falls. The nurses in the maternity ward will assess a mother’s level of tiredness. A mother who has undergone hours of labor and received pain medication will be more tired than a mother who has had a scheduled C-section and only had regional anesthesia. Nurses also will do their best to make sure the mother gets as much sleep as possible by making routine checks as minimally bothersome as possible.
For new mothers: Take as many naps as you can when the baby is not in your care. Identify which visitors are going to help watch the baby while you are sleeping. Take advantage of the hospital’s no-visitor time (other than close family members) to catch up on your sleep. And, of course, if you feel you are too tired to care for your infant, let hospital staffers know; they are more than prepared to help.
We can’t stress enough the need to let your nurses know if your infant falls. If hospital staffers are aware of the situation quickly, they can get appropriate evaluation for the newborn and arrange any follow-up monitoring that might be necessary.
What you can do at home
While it seems to me that more people are reporting infant falls and discussing ways to reduce this problem, it is not just a problem during the hospital stay.
Cases of infants falling from the arms of sleeping mothers at home is still under-reported. When you take your infant home, follow the same guidelines as in the hospital. Sometimes this means the safest place for your baby is in the crib. If you can, take advantage of family and friends who can look after your child while you sleep. Sleeping is not selfish. Rather, it can help you recover more quickly and prevent injury to your child.
Learn more about how to prevent your baby from falling and other safe sleep practices for your newborn by speaking with a UT Southwestern pediatrician.