Caring for Newborns
Newborns and new mothers are a specialized and vulnerable group of patients within a healthcare system. Newborns have no voice to advocate for themselves or their care and the responsibility to care for them as well as possible is placed on healthcare providers and systems. Newborns may not always be offered the same opportunities for care as other patients within a healthcare model.
In a hospital there are many disciplines that come together to provide care for a patient. Doctors and nurses provide some of this care. When a patient’s needs become more complicated there are others that come in to provide their input and specialized knowledge. Dietitians, speech language pathologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, social workers, specialized doctors and nurses and more can all be a part of these teams.
If there is an elderly patient in the hospital routinely given supplements or meal replacement formulas due to low food intake a dietitian and perhaps occupational therapist and speech and language pathologist can be involved. They assess the situation and provide guidance for nursing staff to care for these patients and help them to eat normally again.
If there is a toddler who has developed aversions to foods or textures and only eats limited amounts of food a doctor can refer them to a dietitian, pediatrician and/or occupational therapist for specific assistance.
An adult who has dry mouth and struggles to eat a normal diet and is losing weight can be offered medication, referral to dietitians and dentists and others who can help them to eat normally again.
A mother of an infant who was born prematurely and has been in the NICU struggles with establishing an adequate supply of breastmilk. There are nurses who know basics of breastfeeding management but there may be no one else to offer specialized help if things are still not going well.
A six-week-old infant who is breastfeeding and not gaining the appropriate amount of weight can be offered supplementation. Options for this patient to get back to a normal way of eating (breastfeeding) is to attend a drop-in clinic offered by public health and perhaps referral to a pediatrician. There may be no specialists or other disciplines who could offer help.
Newborns are not able to advocate for themselves and for access to the same level of specialized support given to other populations. Mothers who are recovering from childbirth, struggling with breastfeeding and adapting to parenthood may not be able to, nor should they have to, advocate for the specialized help they should be able to receive.
Nurses who work with newborns should have access to a professional who specializes in infant feeding. Nurses know about norms of breastfeeding but when difficult cases arise, they should have access to further expertise to create good care plans to help their patients.
In follow up and community when doctors encounter patients who are struggling with breastfeeding, they should have the ability to access specialized care for these patients that goes beyond a drop-in clinic or having to suggest private services. Newborns and new mothers should be given the same opportunities and attentions when it comes to nutrition and feeding that is given to other patient populations.
Mothers are sometimes pushed to breastfeed, and they know that this is something that is important for themselves and their babies. When a healthcare system doesn’t provide the specialized support that some women need to be successful in breastfeeding, they set these patients up for possible failure. There can be a lot of guilt and negative feelings associated with the postpartum period, especially when breastfeeding does not go well. This guilt should not be felt by mothers, but by those who were meant to provide support for them that wasn’t there when it was needed.