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Taking Newborns Home Too Early May Be Risky

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"A shorter stay reduces the opportunity to train the mother in infant care during her hospital stay. And, to the extent that there is more education that would be lost now than previously, because of the 'Back to Sleep' campaign, we actually think our results may be even stronger today than they were 10 years ago. Today, with a longer stay, there would be more education and therefore we would expect a longer stay to have an even greater beneficial effect," Malkin tells WebMD.

Education is also a way to prevent two other important causes of readmission and death among newborn babies. Ipp says improper breastfeeding can lead to babies becoming dehydrated and jaundiced. Jaundiced babies have a yellowish tinge to their skin and the whites of their eyes. Mild jaundice may simply go away, but more serious cases can lead to death, Ipp says.

Teaching new moms proper nursing technique can minimize the risk of jaundice and dehydration. Another way to avoid problems is to delay discharge of a baby who is having obvious trouble nursing.

Suzanne Trupin, MD, agrees that maternal education is a major issue that has taken a back seat in the era of managed care.

"In the olden days, my patients would go for a get-acquainted visit with their pediatrician and go over certain issues. With managed care, nobody does that anymore. Even if you pick a pediatrician and go for a get-acquainted visit, [the hospital] has an assigned pediatrician on nursery call. So it doesn't matter who you pick, that pediatrician will see your baby," says Trupin, a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Urbana. "So they certainly are not going to give the mother as much direction about what to look for as they would [on a one-to-one basis]."

One important piece of advice to help minimize some of these problems: Parents-to-be should talk with their obstetricians, pediatricians, and other health care providers about caring for a newborn and infant. They should start the discussions during the pregnancy and learn as much as possible about parenting from the providers and from other sources of information.

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