Nearly All Infants Lose Weight After They’re Born. So Why Do Hospitals Focus on It So Obsessively?

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My first child, Penelope, was born at 6 a.m. As a result, our insurance covered two nights in the hospital. On our second night—when my husband had gone home to rest and prepare the house for our return—the nurses took Penelope for some tests and returned her at 2 a.m. I was sleeping. The nurse switched on the light and rolled the bassinet in; in addition to Penelope, the bassinet had a little sign: Breastfeeding Only.

“We weighed her,” the nurse said, “and she’s lost 11 percent of her body weight. Our limit is 10 percent, so you’ll have to start supplementing with formula. If you don’t, you probably won’t get to take her home tomorrow.” I felt rising panic—not take her home?—and also some confusion. 10 percent versus 11 percent? These seemed pretty similar—was that one percent really enough to prevent an otherwise healthy baby from coming home?

Obviously, you want your baby to thrive, and weight is an important metric. But many new parents are not expecting the tremendous focus doctors and hospital staff place on infant weight gain or loss. If you have happily given birth to a healthy baby after a relatively uneventful delivery, the vast majority of your hospital conversations will now revolve around the baby’s feeding and weight. That might sound like a fine idea, but remember this is not a moment you are at your most laissez-faire. When you’re just postpartum and trying to breastfeed for the first time, it can be incredibly tense. It can feel like you are failing—you did such a great job growing this baby inside you, and now that it’s out, you are a failure. (You’re not!! That’s just how it feels.)


https://pocket-syndicated-images.s3.amazonaws.com/5e3c5eceaeef2.jpegIllustration by Doris Liou.



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