If you're expecting a baby, you probably have lists of items to buy and preparations to make. Did you know that you already have everything you need for your first important act as a new mom? It's as simple as holding your baby skin to skin against your chest.
This simple act done during the first two hours after birth provides your baby with many health benefits including:
Regulating baby's heartbeat and breathing
Stabilizing baby's blood sugar
Promoting baby's brain development
Stimulating mom's release of the hormone oxytocin to increase skin temperature and create a warm, comfortable environment for baby
Creating a calming effect (another impact of oxytocin) that helps mom and baby relax
Helping to prevent allergic diseases in baby
Healthy newborns placed on mom's chest right after birth naturally will begin nursing within the first two hours. They can find the nipple by scent and often latch on without any assistance.
Their first drink of breast milk provides an important dose of colostrum, a rich golden liquid filled with important antibodies for baby. Colostrum coats the baby's intestinal tract to create a barrier against harmful bacteria while also helping baby pass her first stools.
The first act of nursing also helps mom by stimulating uterine contractions that reduce the likelihood of hemorrhaging while helping the uterus return to a smaller shape.
Babies experience a calm period just after birth that is ideal for bonding. Even if you aren't planning to breastfeed your baby, holding her skin to skin at birth helps her adjust to the outside world in a warm, comfortable place surrounded by the familiar sound of your voice and your scent.
This is a standard of care provided for all mothers whether they have delivered vaginally or by Cesarean section. If you are noting a delay, you can request the interaction by talking to your nurse or doctor.
The only time skin-to-skin contact is not recommended at birth is when the baby scores less than a six on the five-minute APGAR assessment - APGAR is a quick observational test of how a baby is doing outside the mother's womb - is five or more weeks premature or if the mother is too heavily medicated. In these cases skin-to-skin contact can begin as soon as mother and baby are stable.
Skin-to-skin contact is a simple, free and healthy thing you can do for your baby in the weeks and months following birth. And it's not an activity reserved for moms. Babies benefit from skin-to-skin contact with their dads, too! Here are some tips for safely holding a baby skin to skin:
Hold baby while you are awake and alert.
Position baby so you are chest to chest.
Ensure your baby can breathe easily by turning its head to the side.
Keep the baby covered with a blanket.
Watch for signs of overheating such as sweating, flushed skin or hot to the touch.
McCullen and Gabriel are lactation consultants with The Birthplace at Susquehanna Health.