Little visitors to the maternity ward (1974)

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Little visitors to the maternity ward

It’s hard enough for a three- or four-year-old to accept the arrival of a new baby. But when mother deserts the family and disappears into a hospital for four or five days before the new baby comes home… well, that may be too much for a tot to understand.

Now, however, more and more hospitals are relaxing their old no-children visiting rules. The idea is to make the new baby’s arrival an event in which every member of the family participates. Mothers report that the visits cut down on sibling rivalry at the start and smooth the way for bringing the baby home.

“Many children associate hospitals with death. They have other fears and tensions. By the time Mother walks in the door with the new baby, everyone is upset,” explained Mrs Barbara Dubler, assistant clinical director of obstetrics at Ann Arbor’s University of Michigan Women’s Hospital.

“When we began to allow children to visit mothers in the hospital lobby, they were reassured about Mother, but where was the baby? Many children suspected that they couldn’t see it because something was wrong.”

Mrs Dubler crusaded several years before Michigan’s health department finally consented to let her change the rules to allow children a look through the nursery windows. When, after a one-year trial, statistics showed no increase in the ward, the change became permanent.

Children have their own visiting hours – at noon, in the late afternoon and early evening. There are no limits on age or the number of times they may visit. Naturally, they’re supposed to be in good health. The hospital advises parents to explain in advance if the baby is in an Isolette or getting some other kind of special care, so children won’t be worried.

Some hospitals allow children to visit the baby once and to see Mother on closed-circuit TV. Some permit one lobby visit with Mom and one look in the nursery. But even a single visit is richly rewarding to children. They ask endless questions – especially why the baby doesn’t have teeth or hair. One little boy, glimpsing a dozen bassinets, said, “Did my mom have all those babies? We were only expecting one.”

Photo: A new mother views her child in the nursery of Loretto Hospital in New Ulm, Minnesota – 10/1974 (photo via US National Archives)

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