Have you considered yet how long you want to stay at the hospital after your baby's born? American law says you can stay two days -- but not all moms want to stay even that long. Here's a look at some factors that might affect your decision.
Ann Silberman

The Newborns' and Mothers' Health Protection Act
In September of 1996, Congress signed into law The Newborns' and Mothers' Health Protection Act. This law states that health insurance policies and group health plans that already provide coverage for childbirth must also provide for a minimum inpatient stay following delivery. This stay amounts to 48 hours for a vaginal delivery or 96 hours following a cesarean section. However, your physician has the option of discharging you earlier, after a consultation with you and your newborn's pediatrician. Before this law was enacted, insurance company policy -- and not the requirements of the mother -- dictated the length of the stay.

Your health and that of your baby is for your doctors to evaluate, but together you can discuss the other factors that will enter into your decision of whether to stay or leave. These may include your previous experience as a mother, your ability to get back to the hospital in case of emergency, your physical ability to assume care of your infant, the amount of nursing care provided by the hospital and whether you have adequate help at home.

Two days
Early discharge may have implications for breastfeeding as well as for the diagnosis of jaundice, sepsis and other conditions that typically appear after a few days in newborns. In a 1995 policy statement, the American Academy of Pediatrics established that it generally takes 48 hours to meet the minimal criteria they deem necessary before discharging an infant from the hospital. A two-day postpartum stay can also allow for intensive education about parenting skills, breastfeeding, maternal after care, contraception and care of the newborn.

Hospitals differ in their approaches, but in many, a new mother will be taught how to bathe, nurse, diaper, and swaddle her baby. Lactation consultants are on call to help with any latching or sucking problems that may occur, and the new mother will be given information on many aspects of newborn care. After a difficult birth, a hospital stay can provide a tired mother with limited family resources a chance to rest and recover.

When Jeannette Cona-Larock gave birth to her children, she decided to stay in the hospital the full two days. She says, "This way we had nurses there 24 hours a day to help us out if we needed it, and I was able to get a bit of rest. With my second daughter this turned out to be a blessing since she developed jaundice during the second night."

Going Home
Admittedly, hospitals can also be unpleasant places. Some of the negatives of a long stay might include sharing a room with a person who has frequent guests or a crying baby. Sleep can be difficult in a busy environment. Some hospitals now have only minimal nurseries, and you may be expected to lift your baby and do most of the care yourself. Even after an easy birth, this can be difficult in a hospital environment. Privacy is non-existent, and you will be at the mercy of the hospital's schedule.

Given a good family support system, close proximity to the hospital, and previous experience with babies, you might be best served to leave the hospital early. Edna Huelsenbeck's experience confirms this. "If it wasn't my baby crying, it was someone else's down the hall, and every time I closed my eyes, someone would come in to ask me if the baby had pooped or to take his temperature or something like that. I decided I would be much better off at home."

The freedom to choose
Weighing the pros and cons carefully and discussing them in advance with your physician will help you decide the appropriate course to take for you and your newborn. Staying in the hospital or leaving is a decision that you and your doctor will make together based on your immediate health and physical needs. Thanks to the Newborns' and Mothers' Health Protection Act, you now have the freedom to choose the way in which you want to begin life with your child.PregnancyAndBaby.com

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