What does baby want? The answer's instinctive at Bon Secours

February 15, 2013


Magic Hour, a program at Bon Secours Virginia, gives mothers and babies uninterrupted time for breast-feeding and bonding. Moms are praising the program. And though Bon Secours nurses can't know for sure, they suspect newborns are happier too.

"The question we ask ourselves is, 'What would the baby want?'" said Mary Anne Graf, vice president of women's and children's services for Bon Secours Richmond Health System. "What the baby wants is, 'Where's mom? Where's my food? Am I loved?'"

Rather than whisking newborns away for a bath and tests, nurses immediately place babies on their mothers' skin. Studies show immediate skin-to-skin contact leads to better breast-feeding. Fathers also take advantage of the Magic Hour to bond with their babies.

"The research about what happens during that first hour (following birth) has been around for a long time," said Graf. "In the hospital you have different pressures, and a lot of time it's just easy to lose track of the basics. In hospitals we get all wound up about measuring the baby, weighing the baby; and we lose sight of the fact that this is a family, and this is their first time together. Sometimes you have to sit back and realize our real job here is to launch a family."

In the case of a medical emergency, caregivers do what they must to protect the life of the baby. But in most cases there is no medical reason to separate mother and child.

Hour of power
"You will not get that first hour back," said Graf. "It's a time of wonderment for baby. It may sound mushy, but it's not."

Indeed, the Magic Hour has delivered real medical benefits. Since the program's rollout in late 2011 and early 2012, all seven Bon Secours Virginia hospitals with maternity services have reported increases in their exclusive breast-feeding rates. At Bon Secours Memorial Regional Medical Center in Mechanicsville the rate soared to 72 percent from 29 percent. At Bon Secours DePaul Medical Center in Norfolk, rates jumped to 77 percent from 57 percent.

"The pressure is huge on a woman (to breast-feed successfully); and it just tears you apart when you can't do it," said Graf. "So, from a psychological perspective, it means a lot to do all we can to give that mother every chance of success."

Mother Chelsie Bates said it was a powerful experience to be alone with her baby those first minutes after her birth. She delivered her firstborn, a girl named Peyten Mckenzie, in September at Bon Secours Mary Immaculate Hospital in Newport News. The nurses immediately rested her baby on her chest and quietly left the room.

"That was really important to me because I wanted to try breast-feeding," said Bates. "I just wanted to look at her. That life spends all of that time inside of you, and you really want to see what that time has given you. I cried so hard."

Bates said friends who delivered at other hospitals recount those first moments of motherhood as chaotic.

"They feel like it was loud and busy and that they didn't really know what was going on," said Bates. "But my nurses explained everything to me. It made me really comfortable."

Graf said Bon Secours nurses helped develop the Magic Hour concept. The approach does away with the longtime practice of splitting duties between delivery nurses and nursery nurses. Now, every caregiver is concerned with both mother and baby. Nurses still administer those first medications, such as eye drops, but later in that first hour and with the help of the mother.

Graf said some mothers choose not to take advantage of the Magic Hour because they want their extended family in the room to celebrate the baby's birth. But those who do, especially those who have delivered before, give the program high marks in customer satisfaction surveys.

"It's quiet and it's intense," said Graf. "They are amazed at the difference."

Quiet, please
Bon Secours reinforces that early bonding with 90 minutes of quiet time during daily visiting hours. Lights are dimmed, visitors are restricted and caregivers limit interruptions.

Said Graf: "It puts some order around what is a really chaotic time for the mom and the baby. You need to create that time or it's not going to happen."

Celeste Phillips, an expert in mother-baby care, calls Bon Secours a national leader in the field. She helped train the Bon Secours nurses and was impressed with their willingness to teach mothers to care for their babies.

"It takes time, money and a lot of training to implement changes like these," said Phillips. "But your staff is working smarter not harder when you empower a mother to care for her baby."

Phillips sometimes gets push back from doctors and nurses who are set in their old ways.

"I see nurses pick up babies and flip them over like a pancake. They would never treat a patient that way," said Phillips. "But Bon Secours gets it — this is a baby, not a thing. And it all starts with the leadership. There is real focus there on family-centered care."


Copyright © 2013 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Copyright © 2013 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.