Your baby is only a few minutes old and you’re exhausted but so in love. It is recommended that you and your baby be together uninterrupted during your baby’s first hour. This is sometimes known as “The Golden Hour.” You need to rest, nurse and get acquainted with your little one.
Immediately following birth your baby will be placed on your bare chest. She will be naked and not wrapped in a blanket. Both of you may be wrapped up together if the room is cold. This is known as “skin to skin or kangaroo care.” Helping you to breastfeed and checking your baby’s vital signs can all be done with your baby resting on your chest. Why is “skin to skin” so important? Let’s think about your baby’s life for the past 9 months. For all that time she was in a warm fluid environment. The placenta took care of breathing and feeding. Suddenly at birth she needs to learn how to survive on her own. Being skin to skin helps your baby to make the transition for womb to world.
Some benefits of skin to skin are:
- Your body responds hormonally to your baby’s body temperature and will keep your baby warmer or cooler as needed.
- Resting on you, your baby will breathe normally and blood sugar is regulated.
- Your body releases oxytocin, also known as the love hormone. This causes you to feel happy and in love with your baby and reduced postpartum depression.
- Baby picks up your bacteria which is so important in building a healthy immune system.
If you have had a cesarean and are unable to hold your baby immediately, skin to skin can be done with the father placing the baby on his bare chest. When dads go skin to skin they feel a greater attachment to their babies. This is because their bodies also release oxytocin, the feel-good hormone which means that skin to skin is good for dads too.
The benefits of skin to skin care were discovered quite by accident in 1979 by two neonatologists in Bogota, Columbia (Dr. Edgar Rey and Dr. Hector Martinez). They didn’t have enough incubators for the number of premature babies in their hospital. In an effort to keep these babies warm they put the small naked babies on their mother’s bare chest. The babies stayed warm and thrived. And so skin to skin (or Kangaroo Care as it is sometimes called) was born.
Although the benefits of skin to skin were discovered to be vital for preemies, Dr. Nil Bergman of South Africa has done research that proves it is beneficial for all babies. His research focuses on the importance of skin to skin in both brain development and breastfeeding.
According to Dr. Bergman, a newborn’s brain development depends on positive sensory stimulation. At birth, the sensations that tell the brain that baby is safe are:
- mother’s smell
- mother’s movements
- mother’s voice
- skin to skin contact
When the baby is skin to skin with the mother it stimulates a specific part of the brain which causes two things happen. First, the baby will move towards the breast, latch on and nurse and secondly, the baby will open his eyes and gaze at the mother. The first step (getting the milk) is important for the baby’s physical development. The second step increases emotional and social development and gives the baby a feeling of safety.
Going skin to skin is good for everyone; mom, dad and baby. Many hospitals in the US are going “baby friendly” which means that breastfeeding is supported and skin to skin is a routine practice. It is good for everyone, baby, mom and dad.