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Leaving the Hospital After Having a Baby

Is there a right time?


Updated July 01, 2014

USA, Utah, Salt Lake City, Portrait of newborn girl (0-1months) with mother
Tetra Images - Mike Kemp/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

Having a baby is a miracle. But the length of stay in your hospital or birth center after giving birth has been a long standing battle. When I had my first baby in the early 1990s, you went home within 24 hours. At the time, I remember thinking I was really not ready to go home. It was my first baby, I was trying to breastfeed and I had only nursed a handful of times since my daughter was born. My birth, while straightforward to the hospital, was way more complicated than I had anticipated involving not only a large pair of forceps but more stitches than I could count (or wanted to). But, that was the hospital policy – 24 hours.

A few years later they passed a law that said a woman got 48 hours after an uncomplicated vaginal birth and 96 hours after an uncomplicated cesarean section. This made many women very happy. However, there are also women who were saddened by this proclamation. These women preferred to go home as soon as possible after having a baby.

Some birth centers routinely send mothers and their newborns home after a mere six to eight hours. These mothers are prepared, know ahead of time and welcome the early discharge.

A study showed that the problem is not necessarily how long women are or are not staying postpartum but the fact that our maternity care system is using a one size fits all policy when it comes to how long mothers and babies stay after birth. In the study about 17% of mothers were not ready to leave the hospital at the time of discharge. While some mothers are delightfully ready to go home in far fewer then 48 hours, while others mothers need more time.

Factors that can influence the need to spend more time in the hospital can include:

  • Having a baby for the first time
  • Insufficient education on breastfeeding or baby care
  • Giving birth during non-routine hospital hours
  • Having a chronic condition or complicated birth
  • Less or inadequate prenatal care
  • Certain ethnicities

By allowing women and their care practitioners to have a say in the length of time one stays in the hospital, we may be able to influence the feelings and attitudes of a multitude of families in a positive manner. Giving a family a say in how much help they need, can make the difference in women and babies being healthier and getting the proper support postpartum, rather than cramming everyone into the same mold.


Decision-making for postpartum discharge of 4300 mothers and their healthy infants: the Life Around Newborn Discharge study. Pediatrics. 2007 Aug;120(2):e391-400. Epub 2007 Jul 16.

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