A new father recently shared a photo he took of a sign in the Special Care Baby Unit (the U.K. version of the NICU) that was meant to encourage new mothers to bond with their babies but has come off to many as shaming them for using their phones during the long hours SCBU. The poster, located at the Yeovil District Hospital in England, contained a hypothetical message from new babies:
“Mummy & Daddy,” it reads. “Please look at ME when I am feeding, I am much more interesting than your phone!!”
I’m on SCBU with my 5 day old. This poster makes me sad... pic.twitter.com/GYDgcgUtN2— Ash Cottrell (@dr_cottrella) January 5, 2020
Ash Cottrell, whose Twitter bio describes him as a “Senior Highly-Highly Specialised Consultant Advanced Clinical Specialist Practitioners Associate,” said that the poster made him “sad.” Commenters, however, were more angry than sad, accusing the hospital of shaming new parents for daring to break up the admitted monotony of breastfeeding and general baby care by using their phones to connect with the outside world.
When you’ve got a baby cluster feeding for hours it tends to get a little boring. There I said it! 😳😂
— Lettie Head (@letties_MH) January 6, 2020
Yea babies are much more interesting than our phones but we also need advice or support or connect with other people when feeling very lonely in hospital. Babies are super cute but not great conversationalists and the middle of the night can feel very overwhelming x
— Aimee Feltham (@AimeeRFeltham) January 6, 2020
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. Wishing you well.
— JulieThompsonDredge (@FramePRUK) January 5, 2020
People were especially upset that the poster was hung in the SBCU, where parents often sit with their premature or sick newborns all day with little to do but worry. Although the poster specifies that parents should look at their babies while feeding, some likely exhausted and stressed out parents were not happy to feel at all judged.
I don’t agree at all. Whatever gets you all through the night is fine. SCBU/NICU parenting is stressful enough, let people find connection and distraction wherever they want to. And manage their own lives. No guilt for not gazing at baby 24/7, thanks
— 𝙲𝚊𝚝𝚛𝚎𝚎𝚎𝚎𝚗𝚊 (@Catreeeena) January 6, 2020
When your baby is in SCBU you have no option than to sit and look at your baby. All day. For hours. You can’t take them home & cuddle & snuggle & be mum. If, for some of those hours, you look at your phone to relieve the tedium of hours on the ward, nobody should tell you off.
— G Paris (@WifieParis) January 6, 2020
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. Good luck to you!
— Daisy lots of Daisies (@daisyx3) January 6, 2020
The Yeovil District Hospital responded to the controversy by sending a statement to the Mirror claiming that the poster was meant to promote a “balance” between phone usage and baby bonding.
“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,” said a hospital spokeswoman. “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.”
Perhaps it would have been better to make a poster that simply says looking at your baby while feeding can help build a healthy connection rather than using a hypothetical message from a newborn to guilt parents about using their phones.
Dear new parent in an impossibly scary and worrying situation – we, your baby’s caregivers, will use emotional manipulation while leaving kisses & pretending to be the voice of your child. We hope you continue to trust us to make good decisions for your little one
— Dr Charlie Briar (@charlie_girl) January 5, 2020
“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,” the spokeswoman continued. “Feeding can be more challenging in premature or unwell babies so watching how your baby feeds and being aware of changes in position is essential in these very early days.”
Seriously, just tell new parents that.
The hospital did (eventually) acknowledge that phone use is also important for new parents to get through a difficult time.
“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.”