1. Callister, Lynn Clark PhD, RN, FAAN

Article Content

A growing body of research is documenting the importance of high-quality, respectful maternity care globally (Bayo et al., 2020; Sacks & Peca, 2020); however, there is limited literature about the quality of care received by newborns globally. The World Health Organization generated seven categories of care, six of which include examples of the mistreatment of newborns (Sacks, 2017). The most common concerns about the disrespect and abuse of newborns include failure to meet professional standards of care, stigma and discrimination, and the constraints of health care systems (Sacks). A multicountry study was conducted in Ghana, Guinea, and Nigeria where women and their newborns (n = 1,627) were observed for 2 hours following birth in a health care facility (Sacks et al., 2021). In this study, a number of newborns did not receive evidence-based clinical practices recommended by the World Health Organization. Skin-to-skin contact (64.4%) did not always occur. Separation of the mother and baby (51.9%) was common and not following the guidelines was more often seen for mothers who were single, less educated, or who had low birthweight, ill infants, or stillborn infants. There was an association between lack of maternal education and women not being educated about breastfeeding. In those instances where mothers had been physically abused during labor, their newborns were more often mistreated, such as being, shaken, slapped, or immersed in cold water (Sacks et al.).


Even in the United States, some women report issues with the poor quality of the care provided to their newborns in surveys of their childbirth experiences (Edmonds et al., 2021). But currently there is little consensus on what constitutes disrespectful and abusive care of newborn babies. More research is needed across multiple health care settings documenting the association between the demographic characteristics of childbearing women and their babies and lack of quality and dignified care at time of birth and beyond. Childrearing women who experience inappropriate care and whose newborns are abused or disrespected are less likely to seek health care across their lifespan. Low utilization of health care in such instances is of concern in mothers and their children.


Defining what constitutes abuse, neglect, and abuse of infants more clearly is essential. Appropriate measurement of what is appropriate care for newborns needs more definition and should include operationalizing World Health Organization standards to meet Sustainable Development Goals for the delivery of humane, inclusive, and holistic care (Brizuela & Tuncalp, 2021). Nurses should focus on provision of physical and emotional care that demonstrates respect for the maternal and baby, care that is equitable regardless of the characteristics of women giving birth and their newborns, care that is provided as a gift of the heart. This care should be modeled for other health care providers and family members. All are entitled to care that honors life from the very beginning.




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