Keep newborns with mums, hospitals urged

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 October, 2007, 12:00am

Private hospitals have been urged to strike a better balance between the need for mother-baby contact and preventing infection after doubts were raised over the long-standing practice of keeping babies isolated.

The call was made after Bee Wright, 26, who gave birth to a baby girl on Tuesday, complained that she was only allowed to have direct contact with her newborn daughter three times a day while breastfeeding.

'We just want to be with our child, but we can't,' father Tony Wright, 41, said, adding that the family had not been warned of the hospital's policy.

He said relatives were only allowed to look at their babies through the windows in the viewing area of the nursery at St Teresa's Hospital in Kowloon City. 'It's like a zoo. We feel detached.'

After their complaint, the hospital allowed the family three extra periods of five minutes a day with their baby.

Mrs Wright, who is in a triple room, said she would prefer to have the baby at her bedside, but this was allowed only in single rooms, which cost at least HK$13,000 more.

The policy is common in private hospitals, but mothers and babies are not segregated in public hospitals.

St Teresa's said 'parents and relatives can see newborn babies in the nursery'. It said the babies were kept separately because of cross-infection concerns and security issues.

Hong Kong Baptist Hospital said it adopted the same policy because it helped to keep the infection rate low.

A third private hospital, Union Hospital in Sha Tin, also confines newborns to the nursery until their mothers leave hospital but is considering a change.

The private Matilda International Hospital said it allowed babies to stay with mothers in all types of rooms, partly because of the hospital's support for breastfeeding.

The Hospital Authority said newborn babies stayed with their mothers in its hospitals unless either needed care in other wards.

A spokeswoman said that the policy enhanced mother-child bonding and that there were 'proper infection control measures in the wards'.

Patients' rights activist Tim Pang Hung-cheong described the quarantine policy as 'very strange'. 'It disregards the babies' rights to be with their parents,' Mr Pang said.

Parry Buckles, a consultant to the Breastfeeding Mothers Association, said there had to be ways to balance infection control and the need for mothers to spend time with their babies. 'A little adjustment to this backward policy will help people reach a win-win situation,' she said.