Skin to skin in the first hour after birth.What Every Pregnant Mother Needs to Know

Skin to skin in the first hour of life lets a newborn know that the world he just entered is safe, warm and welcoming.

Imagine walking into a roomful of people you’ve only met by phone and have no idea what anyone looks like. You stand there for a minute, feeling a little awkward, not sure which direction to walk in, when suddenly, out of nowhere, a smiling woman heads in your direction with an outstretched arm and a warm welcome. You immediately recognize the name on her name tag, smile back, shake hands, say hello, and breathe a sign of that in this roomful of strangers you quickly found someone you know.

This is how it is for the newborn: he enters the world from the safety of his mother’s womb and is encountered mostly by strangers, with a few voices that seem familiar. He has no idea where he is, but before fear can set in, out of nowhere come the hands of his mother who reaches down and wraps him in a warm embrace, skin-to-skin, to let him know that he is safe, welcome and loved.

It’s a defining moment for a newborn: their senses are raw and open and what they learn in this first hour can help create a foundation of security for a lifetime. Each sense is activating to a new level: the muffled sounds baby heard in the womb become loud and clear, like when our ears pop on an airplane; the limited sight distance in the uterus expands to 12 inches and baby sees things he’s never seen before; baby is touching a body that isn’t his own for the very first time; and he tastes the amniotic fluid on his hands with a new sense that it is related to something really, really good in this new environment – breastmilk – that he soon will be driven to find!

The first hour of life is described by some as the “magical” hour. In an article for Newborn and Infant Nursing, Raylene Phillips, MD, IBCLC, FAAP, describes it as the “sacred” hour and states that “there is good evidence that normal, term newborns who are placed skin to skin with their mothers immediately after birth make the transition from fetal to newborn life with greater respiratory, temperature, and glucose stability and significantly less crying indicating decreased stress.”

She says that skin-to-skin also supports optimal brain development, and the opportunity for newborns to use their instinctive skill to find the breast and self-attach without any outside help. “When the newborn is placed skin to skin with the mother, nine observable behaviors can be seen that lead to the first breastfeeding, usually within the first hour after birth.”

Dr. Phillips goes on to say that skin-to-skin is important for mothers as well. “Mothers who hold their newborns skin to skin after birth have increased maternal behaviors, show more confidence in caring for their babies and breastfeed for longer durations.”

Skin-to-skin is a routine practice at Breath of Life, and the midwives are able to assess the baby’s health without interrupting that specialfirst hour of life outside the womb.  We also encourage mothers to remain skin to skin with their baby as much as possible for the first 72 hours. We recognize, as Dr. Phillips states, that “this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and should not be interrupted unless the baby or mother is unstable and requires medical resuscitation. It is a ‘sacred’ time that should be honored, cherished and protected whenever possible.”