Here’s the Story Behind Why Hospitals Have Newborn Baby Nurseries

It's not just because babies are cute (but yeah, that is part of the reason).

javi_indy/ShutterstockWith their large glass windows, rows of little basinettes, and clear views of the hospital’s newest arrivals, it’s hard to imagine hospitals without newborn nurseries. But how did this slightly odd, if precious, concept of putting babies on display come to be? (Meet the baby who is her family’s first girl in over 100 years.)

Well, they’re not really for putting babies on display. First and foremost, they were created as an area for nurses to take care of all of the new babies, separate from their mothers. Newborn nurseries have been around pretty much since moms started having babies in hospitals. In the early 1900s, hospitals replaced homes as the primary place to give birth. Hospitals built maternity wards, and right from the get-go, those wards had nurseries with windows. Here are 13 ways to get your mojo back after baby.

According to Smithsonian.com, a 1943 publication by the American Academy of Pediatrics and The Children’s Bureau gave two main purposes for the nurseries. The first reason was to allow the relatives to see the new bundles of joy. The windows, however, were to keep the babies safe and clean while they were being admired by said relatives. And that sanitary concern is justified. Babies’ immune systems are not yet developed, which has to do with the scary reason you should be careful about letting people kiss your new baby.

However, the Smithsonian.com article does admit that solid walls would be even more effective at keeping germs and infections out than windows. Not to mention they would be more cost-effective. So, yeah… the primary purpose is still to look at the cute babies. Some hospitals would offer individual viewings, so that relatives could have some quality time with their new member of the family. In the mid- to late twentieth century, these nursery viewings were often the first time fathers got to see their new babies. Awww. This new dad’s hilarious daddy-daughter photos will melt your heart.

Today, though, the nurseries mean a lot to many hospital visitors, not just family members. Dotti James, PhD, RN, claims that “the nursery window has become a destination for patients and families from other parts of the hospital experiencing a health crisis… Standing outside the nursery, seeing the babies… can give hope to families trying to cope.” It’s pretty much a universal truth that healthy babies are an immediate mood booster. If you need proof, take a look at these adorable baby photos: they’re guaranteed to make you smile.

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Meghan Jones
Meghan Jones is a Staff Writer for RD.com who has been storytelling since before she could write. She graduated from Marist College with a Bachelor of Arts in English and has been writing for Reader's Digest since 2017. Her creative nonfiction piece "Anticipation" was published in Angles literary magazine in spring 2017. Meghan is a proud Hufflepuff and member of Team Cap.