IT IS EVIDENT TO ME, both personally as a mom and professionally as a clinician, that pregnancy and raising children gets us in touch with our most primal, instinctual self.
Often the information and advice from health professionals and/or family and friends can unintentionally hinder us from truly connecting with this innate side of ourselves.
Through sharing this information I hope to empower you to trust your instincts as a mom or partner capable of meeting the needs of your newborn through bonding, connecting, and understanding each others cues.
This is a time where you absolutely want to hear all sides of the story, suss through the overwhelming amount of information available to you as a parent, but also check-in with your inner voice and allow instinct to motivate actions.
Your baby being born is a precious moment where a family is formed.
How mommy and baby spend their first hour together has many important short- and long-term consequences.
This time should be spent skin-to-skin with preferably mom but the partner is also a great option if mom is unable to do so. That first hour after your baby is born should be spent uninterrupted by medical intervention (unless absolutely necessary) to allow for bonding, attachment and normalization of many physical functions.
Being skin-to-skin is a very natural and primal experience, where all of baby’s needs are met. Allow me to share with you all the benefits of being skin to skin.
1. Physical benefits to baby
Beyond it being the best feeling in the world (I know this first hand), being skin-to-skin with your newborn has so many physiological benefits:
- Normalizing respiration and oxygenation for your baby
- Reducing cortisol, our stress hormone from being released
- Regulating blood pressure
- Reducing crying
- Promoting alertness for your baby
Thermoregulation is also another huge benefit of skin-to-skin, meaning that your body temperature will rise or lower to ensure your baby is the perfect body temperature. The precious few months postpartum are considered the fourth trimester and rightfully so, since your infant is still completely dependent on you for survival.
Blood sugar regulation is also another incredible benefit of being skin-to-skin. If you have gestational diabetes there is a lot of conversation about how to stabilize your baby’s blood sugar postpartum as they are at high risk of low blood sugar postpartum.
The single most efficient (and simple) way to help your baby is to be skin-to-skin immediately after birth until at least initiation of breastfeeding. This seemingly simple, yet remarkable act will stabilize blood sugar levels.
Breastfeeding rates are higher in moms with a skin-to-skin bonding time. Your baby, especially when born unmedicated and naturally, is instinctively capable to latch within the first hour after being born, in fact they will likely ‘crawl’ up to the breast on their own.
2. Physical benefits to mom
Skin-to-skin is a mutually beneficial relationship displaying many benefits for mom and baby. Firstly, having her infant placed on her chest postpartum allows a healthy dose of oxytocin secretion which is not only responsible for normal milk supply but is also our ‘love hormone’ that allows for healthy bonding and attachment between mom and her baby. Studies show that moms who engage in skin-to-skin bonding are less likely to experience postpartum depression.
Studies have also demonstrated that moms who were skin-to-skin immediately after birth were more confident and comfortable caring for their babies when leaving the hospital. Allowing a mom and baby to connect naturally in such a primal state allows them to figure out this relationship together. We are instinctual beings and when allowed to deeply connect with our baby’s we can confidently figure out their needs.
There have also been negative symptoms of distress shown when a baby is not permitted the time to connect with their mom postpartum for skin-to-skin contact. Frantic crying, caused by the very common practice of baby and mom being separated, has been linked in several cases to negative health consequences such as:
- impairing lung function
- increasing intracranial pressure
- increased stress hormones
- jeopardizing foramen ovale closure in the heart
Newborn babies can also experience low body temperature, low blood sugar, decreasing heart rates and slower metabolism when skin-to-skin is avoided or unavailable. Milk supply can be compromised as well as the instinct to suckle can be lost, often reducing the potential for breastfeeding success.
3. Attachment, bonding and emotional development
Skin-to-skin contact is also a way for others to connect with your newborn baby. It is a way to include your partner or other family members to bond with your newborn.
For many spouses, a newborn can be a big adjustment and it is my clinical experience that feelings of isolation or lack of importance can develop. Skin-to-skin contact between baby and partner is a very healthy and natural way of promoting bonding between them.
Many women who have emergency or planned c-sections find that having baby placed skin-to-skin (part of a gentle c-section) increases satisfaction and provides a better birth experience.
You cannot plan the outcome of your birth but you can express your desire to have skin-to-skin time as part of the postpartum care.
Skin-to-skin is one way to help women have a more natural and empowered birth experience regardless of how labour goes.
The early months of life are critical as the emotional areas of the brain (limbic system- hypothalamus, amygdala, hippocampus) begin to develop and mature.
The amygdala, responsible for emotional intelligence, stores feelings of fear or pleasure, memories and stimulates the sympathetic nervous system is activated by skin-to-skin contact. The amygdala matures within the first two months of life, making this a very critical time for healthy bonding and attachment. How parents bond and attach with their baby largely influences the development of the limbic system.
When babies are in a state of despair or distress, after being separated from mom for a period of time, they have found higher levels of interleukin (immune inflammatory marker) in the limbic area. Being skin-to-skin, although not always an option, can help avoid or mitigate this.
How to be skin-to-skin
Not sure what “skin-to-skin” means exactly?
- Just have mom remove her bra along with any piece of clothing between her and her infant (baby can be wearing a diaper).
- Your infant is placed in between the breasts and a blanket should be placed over baby’s back.
Nature has created this bond perfectly and it is important for us to honour this time and allow it to be as intervention-free as possible as this is a pivotal time for the newly bonding family.
This means that all non-emergent interventions or investigations should be postponed for at least the first hour of life or after the initiation of breastfeeding. This includes:
- vitamin K injection
- eye prophylaxis antibiotic ointment
This is something that you can share with your patients if they are unaware or unfamiliar with the practice (although this is becoming increasingly less common as most physician and primary care providers are aware of its benefits).
I have so many moms share with me in office how right and good it feels to be skin-to-skin with baby. This allows them to drown out all the information that is being parlayed to them about giving their baby too much love or following a regimented schedule of sleep and feeding times.
Skin-to-skin allows parents to tap into this instinct and give themselves permission to be conductors of their parenting train, writing their own story of how they bond with their infant.
Skin-to-skin is one of the easiest ways to promote health and well-being to mom, partner and baby. It’s free and provides remarkable benefits that last a lifetime. So be skin-to-skin with your baby as much as possible within that first year of life. There is something wonderful to be gained for all those involved.
- Early skin-to-skin contact for mothers and their healthy newborn infants. Moore ER, Anderson G, Bergman N, Dowswell T. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 May 16;5:CD003519. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD003519.pub3.
- Importance of Skin-to-Skin Contact. Dr. Jack Newman MD. http://www.nbci.ca/index.php?option=com_content&id=82:the-importance-of-skin-to-skin-contact-&Itemid=17
- Skin-to-Skin Contact Le Leche League. http://www.lllc.ca/category/faq-categories/skin-skin-contact
- Uninterrupted Skin-to-Skin Contact Immediately After Birth. Raylene Phillips MD, IBCLC, FAAP. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/806325_9