“What does the baby most need at the moment of birth? Only mother.”
Bergman and Bergman (2013, p. 9)
At the moment of birth our tiny humans are flung from the only world they've known of dark liquid and muffled sounds into bright lights, air hitting their bodies, and loud noises, without the hum of their placenta close by. They feel hands and surfaces and aren't wrapped tightly or warmly with the comfort of our abdomens any longer. After a vaginal or cesarean birth a baby should be placed directly on their mothers chest, skin to skin. As long as baby and momma are stable ALL newborn exams can wait!
The way we choose to hold our babies, the amount of time we hold them, and at what point after birth we hold them, matters. This first physical contact with the human you created is significant and has both emotional and physical benefits depending on the manner in which it unfolds.
Let's talk about what you've probably heard as kangaroo care or skin to skin. It’s not just body to body contact with your baby directly following birth. Why do our bare skin babies need our own bare skin against theirs? What benefits or perhaps safety features does this biologically normal and instinctive behavior have for you and your baby the moments, days, and possibly weeks following birth.
Getting your naked baby in direct contact with your skin as soon as possible after their birth is super important!
For baby, this regulates their respiratory efforts, their blood pressure and heart rate, their temperature (by up to 2 degrees either way), and calms them down if they are worked up emotionally after birth. Some babies cry at birth although with an undisturbed birth a large percentage of babies wont. A calm baby is a baby that will latch well, nurse well, and sleep well.
For momma, having baby close, looking at them, and breathing in their scent increases your production of oxytocin. After an unmedicated birth a mommas body is flooded with feel good and beneficial hormones. Having baby skin to skin keeps this flow of hormones going which keeps the uterus contracting - something we want to aid in the process of birthing the placenta. These hormones also aid in milk production.
So, skin to skin keeps you and baby at the right temperatures, it helps aid the birth of your placenta, it helps your milk come in, it calms you and your baby, and helps baby breathe well and maintain optimal vitals.
“Mothers and babies have a physiologic need to be together at the moment of birth '
and during the hours and days that follow.
Keeping mothers and babies together is a safe and healthy birth practice.
Evidence supports immediate, uninterrupted skin-to-skin care
after vaginal birth and during and after cesarean surgery
for all stable mothers and babies, regardless of feeding preference.” (1)
“Based on decades of evidence, the World Health Organization and United Nations Children’s Fund (World Health Organization & United Nations Children’s Fund, 2009) recommended that all healthy mothers and babies, regardless of feeding preference and method of birth, have uninterrupted skin-to-skin care beginning immediately after birth for at least an hour, and until after the first feeding, for breastfeeding women. All routine procedures such as maternal and newborn assessments can take place during skin-to-skin care or can be delayed until after the sensitive period immediately after birth (American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Breastfeeding, 2012; American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists [ACOG] Committee on Obstetrics Practice, Committee on Health Care for Underserved, 2013; Sobel, Silvestre, Mantaring, Oliveros, & Nyunt-U, 2011). First impressions are important and perhaps none more so than the newborn’s first moments of introduction to the world and the mother’s to her child.” (1)
So, of course we now agree that skin to skin time with baby is important. But, what about the days and weeks following birth? I know, those little clothes are begging to be put on and adored. However, keeping in skin to skin contact with your little during the early postpartum period has extended benefits for both momma and baby. According to Access Hormonal Physiology of Childbearing: Evidence and Implications for Women, Babies, and Maternity Care (2015) by Dr. Sarah J. Buckley, “Ongoing skin-to-skin contact during the early days and weeks may have benefits to maternal mental health, via peaks of oxytocin and prolactin, both stress reducing.”
Your baby’s skin against your own helps keep your feel good hormones high, keeping postpartum depression at bay! Wait to dress your babes. Unwrap those burritos, mommas!
“When a baby is swaddled it cannot interact with his mother, the way nature intended. With skin to skin contact, the mother and the baby exchange sensory information that stimulates and elicits “baby” behavior: rooting and searching for the breast, staying calm, breathing more naturally, staying warm, maintaining his body temperature and maintaining his blood sugar. The very best environment for a baby to grow and thrive is the mother’s (unclothed) body.” (2)
Research shows that extended skin to skin care with your baby also results in accelerated brain development, less colic and crying, better eating and sleeping, improved weight gain and a stronger immune system. (2)
Keeping baby skin to skin for longer periods of time would make for a much less stressful postpartum period for so many families! Personally, I kept my first daughter in just a diaper for an entire week after her birth and held her constantly, even sleeping in contact with her. This provided all the latching and breastfeeding opportunities we both needed to learn our new nursing relationship, keep each other calm and happy and boost our healing abilities. I kept my second daughter unclothed for even longer and our postpartum experience was calm and super enjoyable!
This knowledge about skin to skin is powerful! When we know better, we do better. These first moments, hours, days, and weeks with our babies are important and can be optimally beneficial for us both if we keep bare body contact with our newborns! Take a peek below for more resources and studies supporting skin to skin!
Warm wishes for a happy day!
Early Skin-to-Skin Contact Between Mothers and Newborns:
1. “Unlimited opportunities for skin-to-skin care and breastfeeding promote optimal maternal and child outcomes.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4235060/
Photos by Monet Nicole