April 29, 2008

Hidden Risks – Many Ways to Safety

Hidden Risks – Many Ways to Safety
A few year ago the news had a special report on cleanliness in hospitals, specifically hospital sheets. A study showed that it took as much as eight washings before a sheet was completely disinfected. They found that most sheets used in hospitals were only cleaned and disinfected once.

Hospitals are notorious for spreading disease. According to Suzanne Arms, President of Birthing the Future, "There are 25 strains of pathogens completely resistant to all known antibiotics and most of these are found in hospitals."

Infections which spread within a hospital are called nosocomial infections. These can be bacterial, viral, fungal, or even parasitic. These infections can spread through the air, on objects, by people or on people. Pneumonia is a common and serious nosocomial infection that babies are susceptible to.

What makes hospital infections so dangerous?

One hospital website I visited has this to say, “In the last ten years, infections in hospitals have become an increasingly serious issue. What makes hospital infections so dangerous? Many infections that originate in the hospital setting are resistant to antibiotics – hence the term “super bugs” – and patients in hospital are ill and therefore far more susceptible to infection, leading to potentially deadly complications.” The article went on to urge patients to wash their hands and reduce the amount of time they spent in the hospital visiting patients.

After a quick search in the internet I found pages of studies which blame employee non-compliance in hand washing as the major cause of the spread of infection. Hand washing before touching every item seems to be impossible for even the most vigilant health care worker and since the threat is invisible, there is much room for human error. Shoes, stethoscopes, uniforms, pens, doorknobs, toilet handles, ties, and keyboards are all things that can transport infectious organisms from one individual to another.

"There are areas which are almost impossible to keep clean," one labor and delivery nurse confides to me, "the most filthy being the nursery, and on the bars of the maternity beds."

She recalls, “I was involved in a study where I collected samples with Q-Tips from various areas of the hospital and then we cultured the samples and received a report. The most shocking of the results was that we found very bad antibiotic resistant bacteria on the conveyor belt in the cafeteria. This was found to be from an infection from a man in isolation."

Another labor and delivery nurse tells me that many times, "Nurses from other areas of the hospital will come into the nursery to help feed the babies- wearing the same uniform and shoes they wore all day when treating and caring for infectious patients."

This discussion can be shocking and scary to you as an expecting mother until you realize that your only responsibility is look out for the interests of your baby. When you know that a dirty TV control, a pen, or a helpful nurse can be the way in which your baby gets exposed to infectious diseases, you can take actions to prevent this from happening.

If you know about these unseen dangers you can choose not to be carried along helplessly by the circumstances of your birth, and to take action to ensure that your baby gets the best start in life. Empowerment starts with knowing and acting on what you know.

The Lowest Risk- Is At Home!
Mothers and babies who birth at home have the least risk for contracting infections. Anything you find inside of your home, you have likely been exposed to on a daily basis and your immune system has created antibodies for it. Because of this home birth moms never need to have their genitals scrubbed with disinfectant before birth. A laboring mother can safely birth on her bathroom floor if she likes and still have little risk of infection.

The Second Lowest Risk- Is A Freestanding Birth Center!
The second best choice to avoid infection is to deliver your baby at a free standing birth center. Here you can still deliver anywhere that you like, and you will not have to be scrubbed with a disinfectant before the birth of your baby. A birth center which is not attached to a hospital does not carry the same risks of employees spreading high level infectious diseases with objects like stethoscopes, shoes, uniforms, pens or hands.

Four Tips For The Hospital Birth:
If you can’t deliver you baby at home or in a free standing birth center, you can still do some things to reduce the risks of your baby catching an infection;

1) Clean your surroundings.

Have your husband or your labor support teams disinfect the room where you will labor. Have them this with an antiseptic, paying careful attention the bed rails, bathroom rails, tables, door knobs, T.V. remote controls, and anything else that you may touch.

Most store bought cleaners won’t have any effect on viruses, but you will rest more easily knowing that the area has been cleaned attentively. The worst thing that can happen with this approach is that the nursing staff will roll their eyes at you!

2) Bring your own sheets. You can drape them over the hospital bed, and leave them behind after the birth.

3) Keep your baby with you.
From my discussions with nursery nurses, you can save your baby from most risks by keeping your new baby close to you. This way you do not risk a not-so-clean incubator, nurses who change diapers without washing their hands first or nurses with dirty uniforms holding and feeding your baby to “help out”.

In most cases, there is no reason for your baby to be removed from you. Even in the case of a cesarean section, if you need to rest, the father of a family member can care for the baby in the room. If anyone wants to touch you or your baby ask them to wash their hands first.

4) Breastfeed.
Your breast milk has living components to it as well as essential nutrients for your baby. Your breast milk will contain immunity to everything you have ever been exposed to, and anything you come into contact with within the hospital. Your early milk is especially beneficial to your baby's immature immune system. The benefits of breastfeeding are endless and could not possible be covered here.

4) Leave as soon as you can after the birth.

Studies show that the longer you stay in the hospital, the more the risk goes up for you or your baby to contract an infection.

Most women would not even consider taking their newborn to the hospital to see a sick relative so the same should hold true immediately after birth. If you and your baby are well, the best place to be is home.

For more information of hospital infections you can start here.