Mother-Infant Separation is Stressful

Newborns fare best when kept with mother after birth

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) It's long been the traditional hospital procedure; after a baby is born, it is whisked away by medical staff to be measured, cleaned and swaddled. Until recent years, newborns were often kept in the nursery away from their mothers.

Still today, there is much separation between babies and their mothers in hospitals directly after birth. And researchers say that isn't good for either.

"Newborn babies need their mothers."

Barak E. Morgan, Ph.D. of the University of Cape Town, led a recent study of maternal-neonate separation (MNS), which is a Western norm in medical practice. Morgan and his colleagues measured heart rate variability in 16 full-term newborns at two days old, to determine their stress levels. The babies' heart rates were measured for one hour when sleeping in skin-to-skin contact with their mothers, and when sleeping alone, before discharge from the hospital.

The babies showed a 176 percent increase in anxious autonomic activity and an 86 percent decrease in quiet sleep when separated from their mothers, compared with skin-to-skin contact. Researchers concluded that mother-baby separation is associated with a dramatic increase in physiological stress response in infants, and has a profoundly negative impact on their quiet sleep duration.

"There is good research to support that separation of mother and infant has deleterious side effects on both mommy and baby," says Jennifer Mushtaler, M.D., an obstetrician in Austin, Texas. "I encourage my mothers to have skin-to-skin contact immediately following birth including birth by cesarean section."

She adds that skin-to-skin contact not only when nursing or sleeping, but also at other times, is highly beneficial. "Most experienced mothers will attest to the benefits of swaddling their infant to their bodies when they go about their day and for soothing a colicky or crying baby."

The research findings were published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, and reported in the Wall Street Journal.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 7, 2011
Last Updated:
November 7, 2011