Concern over privacy in neonatal intensive care units

Researchers say that privacy is a problem for breastfeeding mothers of newborns in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

Interventions to support mothers' feeding plans throughout hospitalization and at discharge need to be developed, report Donna Dowling (Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, USA) and team in Advances in Neonatal Care.

They examined breastfeeding rates before and after the opening of a single-family room (SFR) NICU and found that although they expected mothers to find breastfeeding easier, quieter, and more private than in multi-family units, this was not the case.

Indeed, 55% of the 40 new mothers in the study reported that they were most comfortable pumping breastmilk in their own homes due to the increased privacy. Meanwhile, 32.5% of mothers reported being most comfortable pumping in their babies' rooms and only 12.5% preferred pumping in the NICU pumping room or in a boarding room on the maternity floor.

There was no statistically significant difference in the preferred place for pumping between mothers in the standard NICU and those in the SFR NICU. This was despite the fact that 23.1% of mothers in the standard NICU reported they were more comfortable pumping in the baby's room compared with 76.9% of mothers in the SFR NICU.

Dowling commented in a press statement: "The meaning of privacy might differ for mothers and the hospital. This calls for new ways to create privacy for these mothers who want to breastfeed."

Mothers who preferred to pump at home said this was because it offered more privacy and a reduction in the number of interruptions (n=16), comfort (n=7), and control of the environment. Indeed, one mother commented: "I don't want to miss talking to doctors - if they saw I was pumping and said they'd come back it would be hours before they did."

Overall, 75% of mothers said before giving birth that they planned to breastfeed exclusively. However, when the babies were discharged, only 44.7% of mothers were providing breastmilk exclusively, while 71.8% were providing some breast milk. There was no significant difference in exclusive breastfeeding rates between women who used the SFR NICU and those who used the NICU.

The study involved 15 mothers in multiple bed NICUs and 25 in SFR NICU rooms. All mothers completed a survey about their experience of milk expression immediately before infant discharge.

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