Dangerous deliveries: keeping mom and baby together

March 15, 2010 9:20:39 AM PDT
About one in 33 babies is born with a birth defect, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Defects are the leading cause of infant death, accounting for more than 20 percent of infant deaths. While genetic and environmental factors have been linked to birth defects, in about 70 percent of cases, the cause is unknown, according March of Dimes. Some of the most common birth defects include heart defects, cleft lip or cleft palate, Down syndrome and spina bifida.

When a baby is delivered with a life-threatening defect, it is common for the baby to be promptly taken from the mother and given emergency care -- often at a separate facility or hospital. This can interrupt the process of the maternal bond, which some research suggests is a close emotional tie that develops between parents and baby immediately after birth. Some researchers speculate that in humans -- as in animals -- there is a "sensitive period" at birth when mothers and infants are programmed to be in contact with each other. Other research shows human mothers -- like monkeys -- experience changes in their hormones at the time of birth that heighten motivation to care for a new baby and facilitate bonding with the baby.

KEEPING NEW MOMS AND BABIES TOGETHER: Hospitals are doing something to address that crucial need by designing delivery units with the mother-baby bond in mind. One new labor and delivery facility at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia was designed specifically for mothers carrying babies with known birth defects. The unit allows doctors and caretakers to deliver a baby and provide emergency medical care after delivery without transferring the baby to another unit or hospital. The facility has a resuscitation room adjacent to the delivery room where medical staff waits to deliver care immediately after birth if necessary. The unit employs a staff that includes radiologists, ultrasound and echocardiogram technicians, sonographers, pediatric surgeons, nurses and obstetricians.

Joey McCool Ryan

Children's Hospital of Philadelphia