hospital sign shaming parents

Image Of Hospital Sign Shaming New Parents Causes Debate Online. Which side are you on?

A hospital sign shaming new parents about phone use in the special care baby unit (SCBU) of Yeovil District Hospital sparked great debate on Twitter over modern parenting’s greatest question mark: Parental phone use. (1)

Hospital Sign Shaming New Parents Sparks Debate on Twitter

In January 2020, Dr. Ash Cottrella was in the SCBU with his five-day-old baby. He noticed a poster the hospital put up in the unit that asked parents to please stay off their phones during their child’s feeding times. (1)

Image Credit: The Daily Mail

He took a photo of the poster and posted it to his Twitter, captioning it:

“I’m on SCBU with my 5 day old. This poster makes me sad…” (1)

Since he posted the photo, hundreds of parents have commented. Some defend the sign, others say the hospital sign is shaming new parents who are already going through a hard enough time with a sick, fragile newborn. (1)

Outraged Parents

The sign upset many parents, who felt that the sign was shaming new parents who were already going through a hard time. (1)

“Gosh, that I so wrong of them to suggest it’s ‘bad parenting.’ Phones are a lifeline to well wishes, normality and so much more when you have a newborn/are in hospital.” wrote one commenter. (1)

“Oh no! Awful poster. I was in SCBU with a five day old and my phone was a lifeline. I was isolated and frightened (we’d been readmitted) and my phone meant I could stay in touch with people and read up on what had happened to us.” said another. (1)

Other mom’s were also quick to point out that it is very difficult when your child is in an incubator. Feedings happen frequently, but you can’t hold the baby or be close to them in any way. Beyond the intense emotions and fear, many were quick to point out that it really can get quite boring. (1)

“When you’ve got a baby cluster feeding for hours it tends to get a little boring. There I said it!” said one mom. (1)

Another mom who had a premature baby in the ward before smartphones were real agreed.

“I had son 1 pre-smartphones and we were both kept in for a week and I almost went mad with isolation, loneliness and boredom on top of a hideous labour and recovery. (No tvs in ward either).” (1)

Not Just Twitter Comments

The tweet has been posted on several other platforms as well, including the Milk and Motherhood Facebook page.

Commenters here were equally as upset by the poster.

“So tell me: For how many hours of every day should we stare adoringly at our babies in order to be deemed a ‘good mother’?” commented on mom. (2)

Many moms expressed that the amount of time spent feeding newborn babies makes it unrealistic to be 100% present all of the time. (2)

“If my baby feeds 10 times a day for 45-60minutes, must I gaze at him the entire time to ensure that he develops appropriately? What about my neighbour, whose baby feeds 6 times a day for 4 minutes per side — should SHE watch her baby lovingly for that entire time?” (2)

“When I have no family here and no strong friendships, but a Facebook group of new mothers reduces my anxiety and isolation, should I not? For those hours upon hours upon hours, every day, every week, every month, should I just stare at my baby?” agreed another. (2)

Other moms have made the comparison to other activities that are not shamed the way phone use is but also mean that you are not paying complete, devoted attention to your baby. (2)

“How is a mobile phone different from reading a book, watching TV, cooking dinner (yep did that) waiting in a queue (yep did that too), helping a toddler toilet, sleeping, working on the computer, talking on a landline….. this is just ageist and bulls**t.” (2)

The Hospital’s Response

A spokeswoman for the hospital gave a statement to The Mirror, explaining that the poster wasn’t meant to shame the parents but rather to promote balance between baby time and phone time. (3)

“These posters were created by our Special Care Baby Unit nurses following UNICEF baby-friendly accreditation training and have been in place for a few months. They are intended to be used only within the context of the unit, where we support mums of premature or very poorly babies in building a healthy connection.” she explained. “They have very successfully worked as a conversation starter for our team and feedback has been very positive. Being separated from your baby is very difficult for many of our new mums and our advice is all about encouraging bonding as well as strengthening milk flow.” (3)

She continued on to explain the importance of moms watching how their premature babies feed and being aware of position changes is critical for premature babies ’ health in the early days of their lives. She did, however, recognize the importance of phones for parents and staying connected to the outside world. (3)

“We absolutely recognise the importance of phones for new mums – whether that be for keeping in touch with family and friends, reading advice, or taking some downtime – so this is about encouraging a healthy balance.” (3)

There was no word as to whether or not the hospital decided to keep the posters up or take them down.

The Importance of Being Attentive to a Feeding Baby

It is important for parents to be paying attention to their babies while feeding, particularly newborns. For newborns, moms must ensure that the baby, who was only a short time ago in a dark, quiet space, stays calm and awake while feeding. (4)

Moms should sit for feedings and watch for the baby’s signals that they are full. Newborns know how much they need at any given time. (4)

Beyond the three-month mark, your baby still needs a lot of attention during feedings. You still want the child to be awake and calm during feedings. Once the baby starts to eat solid foods, you of course want to be attentive to monitor for choking, allergic reactions, as well as likes and dislikes. (4)

At the end of the day, being a new parent is hard. That job is even harder when your child is sick or struggling in the hospital. While yes, parents need to pay attention and listen to the advice of nurses and health care practitioners, they also need to take care of themselves. If that means looking at their phone for some normalcy or connection to the outside world, so be it.

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Julie Hambleton
The Hearty Soul Team
Julie Hambleton has a BSc in Food and Nutrition from the Western University, Canada, is a former certified personal trainer and a competitive runner. Julie loves food, culture, and health, and enjoys sharing her knowledge to help others make positive changes and live healthier lives.