The first hour after the birth, also referred to as “the magical hour”, is a developmentally distinct time for your baby and should ideally be spent with your baby lying naked skin-to-skin on your chest, without interference.
Regardless of how you intend on feeding your baby, the advantages both short-term and long-term for mother and baby have been well documented and include:
- Mother and baby are calmer – their heart rate and breathing stabilise within normal range. Babies are less likely to cry as they are reassured by hearing their mother’s heart beat.
- Babies are warmer – their skin temperature is stabilised by the warmth from their mother’s chest, which is important for ensuring they maintain normal blood glucose levels after birth.
- Effective breastfeeding and milk supply – stimulates the release of important hormones to support milk production, contracting of the uterus, and mothering. Skin-to-skin is beneficial at anytime during the breastfeeding relationship to assist with correcting breastfeeding issues, commonly suggested by lactation consultants.
- Boost immune system – babies have immature immune systems which develop over the first 12 months. Skin-to-skin contact exposes the baby to the normal flora, or healthy bacteria, on the mother’s skin allowing colonisation of the baby’s skin. Antibodies, or cells which fight infection and allergens, that the mother develops in her system are passed through breast milk and provides further protection against infection. Having skin to skin with dads too, increases the ’herd immunity’ so should be encouraged, especially if labour or birth complications prevent skin-to-skin with mum.
- Bonding – improves parent/baby attachment. Other family members can hold and bond through skin-to-skin too! The first 6 weeks especially, baby will settle best when sleeping on a parent’s chest due to the familiar sound of the heart beating, the rise and fall of the chest and warmth of the skin and breath.
- Kangaroo Care – for preterm babies in the nursery, skin-to-skin contact has positive benefits such as reducing oxygen requirements, stabilising heart rate, breathing and temperature, which conserves energy and therefore stabilises blood sugar levels. This can be performed by both parents.
If your baby’s birth is by caesarean section, skin-to-skin is still encouraged to occur in the operating theatre and in recovery. A midwife will be with you in theatre and recovery to support you if you have impaired strength or ability to stay awake. If there are any medical reasons that interfere with this time during birth, know that skin-to-skin is recommended for birth and beyond, and will commence as soon as possible.
This is such a precious time, enjoy and observe the instinctive behaviours of your baby. Be in the moment, phone calls and measurements can wait! Remember your baby knows your voice and the voice of your partner. Talk to your baby and marvel in what you have made.