What Are the Benefits of Skin to Skin Directly After Birth?
Thanks to patient advocates, research, and mothers making informed decisions, more and more hospitals are giving mothers and babies a golden hour. Not familiar with this term? Wondering what the golden hour is?
The golden hour is at least an hour of uninterrupted skin to skin. This is where the baby is placed directly on the mother’s chest, with their skin touching. Sometimes a baby is wiped clean, and others the baby is directly handed to mom, and cleaned as the two bond. Often a warm blanket is draped over both to keep them warm. It sounds simple, but the benefits are anything but. Let’s dive into what some of these benefits are.
What Are the Benefits of Skin to Skin at Birth?
It doesn’t matter whether labor is short or stretches on for hours and hours, birth is quite an experience for both mother and baby. Skin to skin can help both the mother and newborn both calm down after birth. The warmth of each other's skin, feeling each other’s heart beat, all of these senses and sensations help to bring mother and baby closer together, all while coming down from the excitement of birth.
In addition to this calming effect, uninterrupted skin to skin helps the infant adjust to life outside of the womb. Think about the stark difference between the womb and the delivery room. From bright lights to loud noises, the baby’s new environment is a chaotic one. Safely snug against mom, a baby can slowly start to adjust to these new sensations. Baby’s breathing, and their body temperature begin to regulate. Your baby will both begin to wake up, opening their eyes and responding to mom’s voice, and settle in to rest after the experience of birth.
During skin to skin, your baby will begin to make small movements and root around in search of your breast. Even though they are not likely to eat at this point, this is a big milestone and can provide a lot of comfort for them.
Benefits for Infants Outside of the Hospital
Often when people discuss the benefits of skin to skin, it’s in the context of a hospital setting: either in terms of the golden hour or for NICU babies to promote healing, growth, and development. The truth is that babies continue to benefit from skin to skin beyond the first hour of their birth.
One major benefit of this practice is that it helps to promote bonding. Just like with breastfeeding, we often assume that a bond will just form at birth and everything will be bliss. But for some parents, moms and dads alike, bonding takes a bit of work. In this case, skin to skin can be very helpful! Babies have a certain smell that is nature’s way of convincing us to care for them. When you have your baby placed on your chest, you’re able to take in this smell while also experiencing the sweet little snuggles.
BreastfeedingMoms who are breastfeeding will sometimes be instructed to take a “nursing vacation”. This is more of a staycation than traveling. Mom and baby spend time together snuggled up, often sharing moments of skin to skin contact. This additional bonding time helps to stimulate hormones that mothers need to produce breast milk, helps baby practice suckling and latching, and can be really beneficial for both mom and baby.
Babies are more cozy and comforted when carried in this position. If your baby is tired, cranky, or needs a bit of soothing, try practicing skin to skin. During medical procedures, some healthcare providers may encourage skin to skin to help keep the baby calm and relaxed. Some believe that newborns cry as a means of reducing separation from their mothers. Other mammals will carry their babies during this stage after all, so practicing skin to skin can help reduce the amount of crying your baby experiences.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, parents who practice skin to skin are thought to have more confidence in parenting, and that it might help aid in brain development for babies.
Skin to skin also helps build your baby’s immune system by serving as a method of transferring bacteria from you to them. In this way it can help to build and regulate your baby’s digestive system.
Do Older Babies Benefit from Skin to Skin As Well?
There aren’t as many studies about the long term effects of skin to skin on older babies, but many researchers and healthcare professionals agree that it likely provides the same or similar benefits.
During the golden hour after birth, healthcare professionals monitor mom to make sure that she is awake and oriented to her baby. They keep an eye on the baby’s airway to make sure that it is open and clear. It’s important to also make sure that there is no fall risk for the baby. The same things should be taken into consideration when practicing skin to skin at home.
When laying down and practicing skin to skin, try to use the buddy system. This means that there is someone else in the house to check in on you and make sure that you have not fallen asleep with the baby on your chest.
Tips for Skin to Skin
Baby wearing has grown in popularity for a number of reasons, but one of them is that it’s a very close version of skin to skin. You can get many of the same benefits to one degree or another when you wrap your baby close to your chest. Baby wearing is a safe means of getting that closeness but also not having to lay down for the full time. This means you can get more done, maybe sneak in a bit of exercise, and still get the benefits!
Thoughtfully Designed Clothing
Depending on your wardrobe choice, and the baby wearing method you have on hand, you can also do skin to skin this way. There are some options for clothing now that offer a kangaroo like pouch in which you can carry your baby, and even baby onesies that unfasten around the chest and belly making it possible to skin to skin without totally undressing your little one.
A great way to get close to your little one is in the bathtub. It’s a warm and cozy place where you can both undress and snuggle up with each other. Remember the safety plan and make sure that someone else is home to keep an eye out. It also makes getting in and out of the tub easier as you can hand the baby to them and have them towel the baby off.