The title of a recent post by Reddit user Ryan Grassley shocked the Internet and parents around the world: “I had to pay $39.35 to hold my baby after he was born.”
In the now-viral post, Ryan explains, “During the C-section the nurse asked my wife if she would like to do skin to skin after the baby was born. Which of course anyone would say yes to. We just noticed it in the bill today and had a laugh.”
The story has struck a nerve among fellow parents outraged over the idea of being charged for what should be a simple, universal human right to hold your baby skin-to-skin after birth. In fact, immediate skin-to-skin contact is best medical practice for all uncomplicated births, whether vaginal or cesarean. Newborns who are placed skin-to-skin with their mothers shortly after birth have lower stress levels, improved vital signs, and are more likely to successfully breastfeed. Mothers who do skin-to-skin care with their newborns experience lower anxiety and pain, and report higher satisfaction with their birth experience.
So why would a hospital charge for something that is best for both babies and their mothers? A spokesperson for Utah Valley Hospital explained to the New York Times that the $40 charge was not actually for holding the baby, but rather, for the presence of an additional nurse in the operating room to ensure the safety of the baby and mother, since the birth was a c-section.
Here at Nesting Days, we are passionate about the evidence-based practice of skin-to-skin newborn care and advocating for a better birth experience for parents and their babies. We believe that much of the coverage on this story has missed the point. The issue is not the specific label, service, or price required for these parents to be skin-to-skin with their baby. The issue is a health care system that is slow to change and continues to fall short of meeting the psychological, physiological, and financial needs of parents and their newborns.
Medical professionals recommend at least one hour of uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact for all mothers with uncomplicated births. Furthermore, extending that time to 1.5 to 2 hours could have significant payoffs. How is it possible to fully enjoy this time with your baby when you’re aware that you’re being charged by the hour for it? Insured American parents already pay an average of $3,400 out of pocket for giving birth. For many families, doing what is best for mom and baby’s health is at odds with the family’s financial health. This is unacceptable, and it must change.
It’s also unfortunate that the opportunity for skin-to-skin care was only brought up to these parents as an afterthought. Skin-to-skin bonding is far too important to be treated like an optional “add-on” to the birth experience! Our hope is that one day, all hospitals will educate and encourage parents to plan for immediate skin-to-skin bonding after uncomplicated births.
We realize that there is no one hospital or particular billing practice to blame. The true culprit is an extraordinarily expensive health care system that financially burdens patients and has yet to fully move toward the mother-centered approach to childbirth that families need and deserve. And while there has been some positive movement, there is still so much work to be done.
At Nesting Days, we believe that education is critical to getting mothers and newborns the care they deserve. Greater awareness of the many benefits of skin-to-skin care may motivate more hospitals to implement it for all uncomplicated births. In fact, only 32% of hospitals in the U.S. allow skin-to-skin time for mothers and babies after uncomplicated cesarean births—and the number isn’t much better for vaginal births, either (only 43%)! These numbers must improve.
The system won’t change overnight, but empowering mothers and fathers through knowledge is a good first step. It’s also so important to remember that skin-to-skin newborn care doesn’t end after Day 1. That’s why we invented a skin-to-skin newborn carrier that is safe for babies up to 18 pounds—so mothers and newborns could continue to receive the benefits of extended skin-to-skin contact even if they were not able to experience it immediately after birth.
Until bigger changes are made to our health care system, we encourage moms and dads to continue learning about, and advocating for, skin-to-skin bonding with their newborns after birth. In the meantime, all of us here at Nesting Days promise to keep working hard on our mission of changing the way we welcome babies into the world, one baby at a time.