No more nurseries in SA hospitals?


When my son was born via C-section, I was so woozy and very shaky post op. I could barely hold him that first day and by the time night came around I was beyond exhausted - mostly from all the pain medication I was on.

I was very grateful to hand him over to a friendly and loving nurse who would watch him while I got a few hours of sleep and bring him to me in the night when he needed feeding.

During most of the day he was curled up next to me or in his little wheelie crib. Being a first time mom I had no idea what to do with a baby and I was very scared to have him both near and away from me.

On the second night, I opted to keep him with me. I had a little more confidence, I loved snuggling with him and I wanted to learn his cues for when he needed feeding.

But I was very grateful for the nurse on that first night.

Baby-friendly hospitals

In 1991 the World Health Organisation and UNICEF launched the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) which is a global effort to implement practices that protect, promote and support breastfeeding.

But baby-friendly hospitals in the US are taking it one step further and according to the Huffington Post are doing away with nurseries all together. While rooming-in is encouraged, nowhere is it explicitly said that  hospitals should not having a nursery to receive Baby-Friendly status. 

However step 7 in the Guide for Baby-Friendly Hospitals states that “staff confirm that at least 80% of the mothers and babies are together or, if not, have justifiable reasons for being separated.”

Is it a good idea?

I like the idea of baby-friendly hospitals where moms are encouraged to breastfeed and bond with their babies but the thought of having the option of a nursery taken away does not sit well with me.

For new moms who’ve had c-sections or very long and difficult natural births, that few hours to recover after birth can be a major blessing. For a new mom to not even have that option and support after birth is ludicrous.

Even when you have a homebirth, many moms ensure they have a solid support structure in place post-birth so that they can get some rest – be it husband, granny or sister, there is another human being there to watch over baby while you have a rest.

Some moms commenting on a Scary Mommy article about this new trend said that nurses outright refused to help them after having difficult birth experiences. But it seems that SA moms need not worry about this yet.

Renaldo Adams from Cape Town MediClinic, one of the 11 Baby-Friendly Hospitals in the Western Cape and the only private hospital that has attained the status, says that while they don’t have a nursery they do have a Well-Baby area where babies are bathed and given their vaccinations.

In the event of recovery after a c-section or mom needing to take a shower, the nurses are happy to take care of baby for a short while but other than that, babies room-in with mom.

Adams says that during the weekly maternity tours, “mothers are informed that rooming-in will allow them to form stronger bonds with their babies, as well as to observe baby’s sounds, movements and grimaces while in hospital, allowing mothers to identify feeding cues, etc. Better bonding and more time spent with mom, will allow for easier and smoother breastfeeding experiences.” 

Unlike the experiences of mothers in the US where it's been reported that some nurses leave mothers to fend for themselves, the nursing care in SA has not sunk to that level.

Adams says: “Nurses are available around the clock to assist mothers in any way possible. This could be with breastfeeding support and advice, general nursing care, etc. Mothers are never left to their own devices and hourly checks are done to ensure superb nursing care.”

Sr. Anna Duarte, Unit Manager of the Maternity ward at Mediclinic Panorama says that while the hospital does have a nursery and is not a BFIH, they have implemented all the steps in the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative.  

"We encourage rooming in as much as possible, but we do not enforce it, and definitely during the last 24 hours of the hospital stay." she says.

"After a c-section the mothers are on some type of opioid medication for the pain and for at least 24 hours she is NOT able to take care of her own baby. So it's unsafe to leave a baby next to the mother, when she herself is drowsy and sedated. Safety is ALWAYS our number one priority," Sr. Duarte explains.

"However a mother who had a natural birth, without any analgesia (the loss of the ability to feel pain while conscious), is definitely treated differently. She is capable of rooming in fully, however even if she has had an Epidural, the risk is always there."

When asked about the complete removal of nurseries Sr. Duarte has this to say: "In my opinion as an experienced Midwife, 22 years, forcing rooming in can be more of a disadvantage than an advantage. One always has to access each mother individually, and provide holistic care to the family. 

In SA we say it takes a village to raise a child, this village starts in the hospital.  One has to always look at what separation of mother and baby can cause.  The main possible problem is interference with breastfeeding."

What do moms think about this?

We asked some of our Facebook moms what they thought about hospitals doing away with nurseries and here’s what they had to say:

What are your thoughts on hospitals who don't have nurseries? Send us your thoughts to

Updated to add comment from Sr Anne Duarte, Unit Manager of the Maternity ward at Mediclinic Panorama.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24