Hospital Stay Tips from an Attachment Parent

Hospital Stay Tips from an Attachment Parent

When I first heard that my daughter, Madilynn, had spina bifida, and would need surgery just one day after birth, I started to panic. We are a natural family that avoids the doctor whenever possible. We practice attachment parenting, and had no experience with prolonged hospital stays. We were planning a home birth and seeing a midwife for care.

My son, Conner, was not two yet, still nursing, and co-sleeping. My mind started to fill with questions. Would they let me breastfeed Madi? Would I be able to have her on my chest after birth? How would Conner do with mommy gone? I had never been away from Conner for more than a few hours, let alone a few days!

To make matters worse, they wanted me to have a c-section. I know this does not sound like the end of the world to many people, but it was to me. A c-section would mean I was stuck in one hospital recovering while my baby was in another undergoing major surgery without me.

I had to do something. I decided to go straight to the top, the neurosurgeon. He would call the shots, and if I could get him to agree, everyone else would go along with it. I told Madi’s neurosurgeon that they wanted me to have a c-section, to pump/bottle feed for a while, and that I would not be able to have Madi on my chest after birth. I told him that I did not agree with these choices and felt that they were not in Madi’s best interest. Thankfully, he agreed. Had he not, I would have been stuck trying to find another neurosurgeon that did. He told me that there is no research showing a c-section was any better for baby/mother than a natural birth, even with Madi’s open back and hydrocephalus. He felt there was no reason for her not to be placed on my chest after birth and to make sure that they knew he cleared it. He also supported my decision to immediately breastfeed. I would have to hold her in different positions and get help from the nurses, but breastfeeding her after surgery would be an awesome way to help her little body heal.

The big day came and my natural birth went smoothly. My husband David and I stayed with Madi in the NICU that night, which was not customary as most mothers stay in their rooms to recover. David went with her in the ambulance the next morning and I followed shortly after. The surgery went well and just two hours afterward, I had my little girl in my arms, nursing like a champ. To put that in perspective, many other babies with spina bifida are not even “allowed” to be held until a week or so after birth. It may not have been customary for them to allow me to hold her and feed her so soon, but I honestly feel that it is what made all the difference. I also stayed with Madi day and night which I think helped tremendously. To make a long story short, we were released in 5 days, a hospital record. Many nurses and doctors came by to tell us that they were amazed we were leaving so quickly. Most babies do not leave until 12 days after surgery, and two weeks is pretty common.

We have a lot of experience with extended hospital stays. We have been back to the hospital with shunt complications three times. One stay was just short of three weeks, one was about four days, and one was just a night. Though I was very worried about being able to practice attachment parenting, I found it to be a smooth transition.

Here are some of my tips, just in case you should ever face extended hospital time with your little one.

1. Stay with your child. This is something I tell every parent who will have a child in the hospital. No one loves your child like you, and no one will fight for them like you will. They need you there with them, advocating for them, day and night. They need someone telling the nurses to feed them when they are hungry, to turn down the lights so they can sleep comfortably, to pick them up when they need physical touch, and to respond to their needs right away, not when they get time. If you cannot stay with your child, make Child Life your new best friend. Ask them to have volunteers in your child’s room as much as possible. Ask friends and church members to sit with your child.

2. Write a care plan. The nurses that cared for Madi said they had never seen a care plan before and were shocked I took the time to write it. Because of that plan they all knew our goal was breastfeeding, that I wanted testing done during the day (not at night), that Madi would be fed on demand (not on a schedule), and that I would be staying day and night and would appreciate the accommodation.

3. Request a private room. This makes caring for your child so much nicer. Bring a radio with classical music along to drown out those yucky hospital noises.

4. Breastfeeding is possible after many surgeries. If for some reason you are unable to breastfeed, you can pump and bottle feed, or even pump and use the breastmilk in a feeding tube. I was told that no matter what, they would make sure that my breastmilk got in to my child. If you have to supplement, you can request donor milk instead of formula. You can also request a hospital-grade pump to have in your room. I always request one just to ease the pain of engorgement when Madi is in surgery. Nurses will default to schedule feeding your child, but that does not mean they will not allow you to feed on demand. If you let them know that is important to you, they are pretty accommodating.

5. Breastfeeding = shorter NPO times. If your child has to go NPO (nothing by mouth) before surgery, they will take in to account that you are breastfeeding. Most hospitals will say six hours of no food or formula, but only four hours of no breastmilk. Some will even say just two or three hours with no breastmilk is sufficient.

6. You can co-sleep in the hospital. Your baby does not have to sleep in a crib. There is a waiver you will have to sign saying that if they fall out of bed you will not hold them accountable, but it can be done. I co-slept with Madi every hospital stay. One thing that helped was asking for extra blankets. I rolled them up and shoved them in the openings on both sides of the hospital bed. This gave us plenty of room on the bed, but also closed the gaps so that Madi could not slip out. I also asked for extra pillows so that I could prop up my arms when I was laying down so they did not fall asleep when Madi was sleeping on my chest.

7. Cloth diapering in the hospital is possible. They may want to weigh your baby’s diapers, so it is helpful to have all the same brand/size. Then they can measure urine and fecal output, just as they would with a disposable. You should be able to wash your diapers at the hospital. Most hospitals have a family center with a washer and dryer. I will admit, I just used disposables because it was easier, but for some babies with allergies to disposable diapers they are not an option. My friend, Mary, has used cloth successfully with her daughter in the hospital.

8. Babywearing in the hospital is very beneficial. Many babies and children need lots of extra touch time because they go through so much during their stays. Babywearing is a great way to give them what they need. Some carriers are easier to use than others, though. A ring sling, a soft carrier, or a structured carrier is a better option. These carriers allow room for cords and other medical devices. A wrap is a little tougher because there is less open area to string all the cords through.

10. Do not be afraid to ask questions! Doctors and nurses have their own opinions, but no one cares for your child as much as you. If you can, bring a laptop so that you can research about what they are telling you. You can also research alternative treatments and ideas.

You can read more about my daughter at If you ever have any questions you can also contact me through her blog. Just remember, trust your instincts, they are there for a reason!

Shop through Amazon? Please use our link! Madi gets 6%!

by Jaime Veprek, guest contributor


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110 Responses to “Hospital Stay Tips from an Attachment Parent”

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  14. Trina says:

    Thank you for your article; it was very helpful and encouraging. As a Registered Nurse myself, it makes me so sad to see how many people completely give up their own will (and even rights) simply to accommodate hospital staff. This especially bothers me when it comes to infants and young children.

    For anyone reading this, please, I implore you: Advocate for your child. I don’t mean throw a fit when little Billy wants another bowl of Jello and I certainly don’t mean that it is okay to disrespect nursing staff or doctors for no good reason. However, it is perfectly acceptable (and even wise) to politely inquire why certain tests are being performed or medications given and, if you feel they are unnecessary, to request further information, a second opinion, or (with good reason) even refuse the treatment. Do not ever feel pressured to comply with certain practices just because a nurse or doctor tells you, “That’s just the way we do things here.” If anything, that is a great reason to question what is being done.

    Do feel free to draft a careplan that you would like the staff to follow. However, try to limit the plan to items that are important to you because, the reality of a busy hospital is, the more lengthy and complicated it is, the more likely it is to be disregarded.

    Above all, trust your natural instincts. Don’t let hospital staff pressure you into doing something you aren’t comfortable with just because they are the professionals. Yes, nurses and doctors deserve to be treated with respect. We suffer abuse on a daily basis and I certainly do not condone contributions to that. However, you and your child also deserve respect. Nurses and doctors may know a lot, but we don’t know everything and we certainly don’t know your child as well as you do. You are your child’s most important advocate and it is your job to watch out for her best interests.

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  36. Angela says:

    As I nurse I want to say how much I really love this post. Its so very very true and I wish more parents did this. The only thing I would add is when getting online to check out what the staff is telling you —PLEASE make sure is reputable sites, there is so much bad info online as well as great that it can almost make things worse for patients.

  37. Andrea Smith says:

    Wow! What a post. Thank you so much for this list and this information. I planned a homebirth and then had a hospital transfer. Thankfully, there were no other complications, and we were in a relatively natural friendly hospital (at least once the baby was born), but I knew this feeling well of needing to be our baby’s advocate. I know it must have been multiplied with your situation. Thank you so much for sharing your insights with us.

  38. Anna E. says:

    What an amazing story. Thanks for the advice. I will for sure demand to stay with my child should anything happen.

  39. Melissa J. says:

    I’m quite possible looking at a hospital stay albeit relatively short so this definitely made me feel better. I think it’s great the hospital was so cooperative with your requests. The hospital I delivered at recommends all babies stay in the room and they will not go to the nursery unless you request it. (Which they remind us is perfectly fine too. Having had an emergency section, caring for my baby alone was difficult as I couldn’t get out of bed the first night and couldn’t get her out of the bassinet. They weren’t up for the co-sleeping though. Thankfully her father was there to help me!)

  40. […] Hospital Stay Tips from an Attachment Parent « Breastfeed.Babywear … […]

  41. Nicole says:

    You are an amazing mom! I loved the article. I use to work on the neurosurgery floor at a childrens hospital in chicago. I could not believe the amount of parents who used the hospital like a babysitting service. Drop them off and pick them up when they are ready to go. I wish you the best of luck. I think is is so important to have doctors and nurses that have the same beliefs as you do. Keep taking great care of Madi!

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  45. Maria says:

    Wonderful info, hope I never need it!

  46. Diane A says:

    very good insight on hospital stays! i am a nurse and a mommy of four (youngest is 5 mo), it is true if you can find a DR that agrees with your goals and outcomes your steps to getting there will be more accepted by the hospital staff. Im not convinced of the reusable dipers though! But im right there with you on the baby bonding/ attachment aspects: baby wearing, breast milk (my babies have an aversion to my boobs so i pumped every ounce), and general ‘natural’ living is good for every one involved! Keep working on finding DR’s that agree to work with yout wants and needs and it will get you a long and healthy life with those you love!

  47. Jamie says:

    You bring up a great point, Katie! If you are breastfeeding, you can get vouchers and/or order food without having to pay for it, since they are saving on the cost of formula.

  48. Annette says:

    Great advice!
    “No one loves your child like you, and no one will fight for them like you will. They need you there with them, advocating for them, day and night.”

  49. Mary M. says:

    thanks for sharing. and that is so awesome your neurosurgeon supported you. 🙂

  50. Randie Sanders says:

    What a beautiful story and good for you! Most parents just accept what the doctors say without question.

  51. Katie B says:

    I also wanted to comment that my third was hospitalized at 5 and 6 weeks of age for an infection and I stayed with her both times. I was well fed by the hospital so I could nurse her and they did whatever I requested to make our stay go well. So, it is possible!!

  52. Katie B says:

    What an amazing story! I actually had to have 3 c-sections, the first two emergency due to cord issues and the last I just did bc of the previous 2. I will say that we requested at our hospital non-separation, which meant that our children never left our room or out of our sight without at least one parent. When it was my first, the nurses gave me a lot of slack saying I needed rest, blah, blah, but by the 3rd they said nothing. It worked for us and in my opinion I was able to get her routine (whatever that is as a baby) down sooner. I left the hospital within 48 hours after my second two and was fine within a couple of weeks.