Fitness + Well-being

What new moms should do if their labor and delivery nurse shames them

There’s no denying that during childbirth your nurses can provide a wealth of information and be a vital source of support.

“Their ultimate responsibility is to facilitate care so that their patients — mom and baby — get through labor and delivery safely,” Jeanne Faulkner, a registered nurse in Portland, Oregon, and author of “Common Sense Pregnancy: Navigating a Healthy Pregnancy and Birth for Mother and Baby,” told Fox News.

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Labor and delivery nurses are tasked with making sure women and their families are comfortable, and that they honor their patients’ preferences and culture. They must also monitor moms and their babies for possible complications, and, when necessary, perform medical procedures like administering an IV or transferring patients to the operating room.

But sometimes, these nurses’ behavior may go off course. Fox News talked to a handful of women whose labor and delivery nurses stepped out of line — and talked to experts to learn what you should do if you find yourself in one of these situations.

If you’re denied an epidural
Although most women go into the hospital with a birth plan, childbirth can be unpredictable, and some nurses might not be comfortable with their patients’ plans simply due to their own personal style or preferences.

Then-45-year-old Hollis Heavenrich-Jones of Lincolnwood, Illinois, encountered this issue the night before her due date, when she was admitted to the hospital to be induced.  

Everything was going smoothly, but once she arrived in the delivery room, she realized her son was lying on her sciatic nerve. “Every time I had a contraction, there would be this pain shooting down my leg in addition to the contraction, and it was very uncomfortable,” she told Fox News.

When Heavenrich-Jones asked her nurse to order an epidural, the nurse said, “I think it’s a little early for that,”Heavenrich-Jones said.

“It made me feel helpless and diminished,” she went on. “I also felt that I was being whiny and complaining too much.”

About an hour later, when her OB-GYN came in to check on her, Heavenrich-Jones told her what happened. “[The OB-GYN] said, ‘No, this is your delivery, you get to choose when you need an epidural, not the nurse.’ And she went and ordered it,” Heavenrich-Jones described.

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What you can do
If you’re not in active labor yet, it’s not a good idea to get an epidural. That’s because the IV fluids given alongside an epidural can dilute the natural oxytocin the woman produces and keep her immobilized in bed, ultimately impacting the course of her labor, Faulkner said.

Yet every woman and every birth is different.

“If you want things for your labor and birth that are safe, reasonable, and promote a healthy labor and delivery, and you don’t have any clear indications [for] why you shouldn’t, then you should be able to have what you want,” Faulkner said.

Although moms may feel vulnerable during labor, they should ask plenty of questions to get all of the information they need and have the confidence to ask for what they want. If they find themselves in need of extra support, they can ask the charge nurse, their provider, their partner or a doula to help them advocate. “Ultimately realize that the choices you make are your decisions,” Faulkner said.

If you’re shamed for not breast-feeding
The rise of natural childbirth and “intensive parenting” has created an ethos in society that there’s a right way to be a good mother, and those ideas have been expressed most significantly with breast-feeding, Amy Tuteur, an OB-GYN in Boston, Massachusetts, and author of “Push Back: Guilt in the Age of Natural Parenting,” told Fox News.

In fact, in 1991, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) joined forces to establish the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI), a global program to promote breast-feeding in hospitals and birth centers.

But all that, plus the known benefits of breast-feeding for babies whose moms can, doesn’t mean nurses can shame women into the practice.

Cori Magnotta, of Portland, Connecticut, faced this problem firsthand.

Just a few minutes after the 33-year-old’s son was delivered in 2014, Magnotta gave her son a pacifier because he was crying. The nurse then gave her a “dirty look” and asked about her plans to breast-feed. “She told me that he would never take my breast because I had given him a pacifier,” she recalled.

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Magnotta took the pacifier out of her son’s mouth and let him cry for half an hour. “My heart instantly dropped — I felt like I screwed up at six minutes old.”

Despite seeing lactation consultants and making continued attempts to breast-feed and pump, Magnotta only produced a few drops of colostrum — the first milk after delivery — and her son didn’t gain any weight, which suggested the feedings weren’t sufficiently nourishing him.  

After 24 hours, Magnotta’s doctors informed her she’d need to switch to formula for her son. Yet when the same nurse came in and saw her preparing a bottle, she told Magnotta: “Don’t do that because your body produces antibodies and your body knows what the baby needs. Babies who aren’t breast-fed are more sickly.”

“My body didn’t do what it was supposed to do, and here I am being told it works for everybody,” Magnotta recalled.

Six weeks later, Magnotta was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, a condition doctors said she developed while pregnant and the reason her milk did not come in.

“I suffered from postpartum depression, and I think feeling like a failure for not being able to feed my baby really contributed to that,” she said.

What you can do
If you feel criticized about your choice to breast-feed or not, always speak up. “If the patient says, ‘This is not working for me,’ and her nurse doesn't become more supportive of the woman's choices, then it's time to ask for a different nurse,” Faulkner said. “Yes, that's uncomfortable but patients deserve to feel supported and [for] nurses have to know when they're crossing the line.”

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If you’re pushed to get pain relief
When Niki Sawyers, 34, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was in labor with her third child in 2014, she was tolerating labor well despite being induced. When the nurse asked her about an epidural, Sawyers said she wanted to wait to make that decision. Yet Sawyers said because the anesthesiologist was available, the nurse talked her out of waiting. “You’re going to want it. If you don’t get it now, when you do want it, you’re not going to be able to get it,” Sawyers recalled the nurse telling her. “I basically fell into her routine … and how she does things,” Sawyers said.

What you can do
It’s important to know that the anesthesiologist may not always be available right away because they’re working with other patients or are called to emergencies. Also, because pain can look different for each woman and it only gets worse, the nurse will want to make sure you get pain relief before it feels overwhelming.

“Sometimes when moms wait until the pain is terrible then it can be delayed, and those are the times we see moms really regret waiting,” Katrina Peschl, a charge nurse at Fairview Northland Medical Center's Birthplace in Princeton, Minnesota, told Fox News. Be sure to explain to the nurse why you may want to wait and ask her to explain your options. “Your labor and delivery nurse should be your best friend and fully honest,” Peschl said.

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If you’re persuaded to circumcise
After Niki Sawyers gave birth and declined circumcision for her son, the nurse asked, “Are you sure about that?” which Sawyers said she felt was condescending and insinuated that she should have the procedure done. “You might be making a decision based on pure motherly instinct and then all of a sudden you’re being questioned by the medical professionals around you, and you may second guess yourself, which is what happened to me,” she said.

The next day, her doctor came in with the consent form and assured her it was the best decision for her baby. Sleep deprived and feeling unsure about her decision, Sawyers signed the paper. “It happened so fast, I would definitely take it back,” she said.

What you can do
It’s always a good idea to be prepared with the facts before you give birth and understand why you’re making a decision. Always ask the nurse questions to understand her point of view. Yet if you feel coerced, you should know that every decision is in your control no matter what. “If they have this gut feeling that they shouldn’t or they may regret it, [it’s important] to just stand up for themselves and say ‘No,’” Peschl said.

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If you’re criticized for extended breast-feeding
For 28-year-old Grace Vinton, of Danbury, Connecticut, the lack of support for her choice to breast-feed took her by surprise.

After having a cesarean section to deliver her son, the nurses told Vinton, then 26, that there was a measles outbreak in New Jersey so her 2-year-old daughter, who she was also breast-feeding, wouldn’t be allowed in her room.

“Why are you still nursing her?” the nurses asked. “I was sobbing; there was nothing else I could do about it. I had to nurse my baby,” Vinton said.

The nurses suggested Vinton go down to the main lobby waiting room, in her wheelchair and in pain to nurse her daughter — every three hours for three days until she was released from the hospital. Although she understood their policy, Vinton said she had never been comfortable nursing in public and she wished they would have allowed her to at least nurse her daughter in a private, quiet place in another room in the hospital.

“I was very traumatized by the whole thing because I had to go in public and was basically forced to nurse my toddler,” Vinton said. “There’s not really a good way to nurse a toddler in a wheelchair when you’ve just had a C-section.”

What you can do
If you feel criticized about your choice to breast-feed or not, always speak up. “If the patient says, ‘This is not working for me,’ and her nurse doesn't become more supportive of the woman's choices, then it's time to ask for a different nurse,” Faulkner said. “Yes, that's uncomfortable, but patients deserve to feel supported and nurses have to know when they're crossing the line.”

Julie Revelant is a health journalist and a consultant who provides content marketing and copywriting services for the healthcare industry. She's also a mom of two. Learn more about Julie at revelantwriting.com.