In our BabyNatal Practical Baby Care classes we talk about the ‘Golden Hour’, which is the term used to describe the first hour after the birth of a baby. We love talking about what typically happens during this time, and one of the things that we encourage parents to consider, if at all possible, is to have skin-to-skin contact with their babies.
Having skin-to-skin contact simply means having your baby’s bare body on your bare skin (normally on your chest). If your baby has literally just been born, they may still be partially wrapped in a towel, which helps them stay warm.
Skin-to-skin contact isn’t just for the first few minutes or hours after birth though – when you’re at home with your baby in the first few days and weeks of their lives, you can continue to take some time to enjoy skin-to-skin contact with them – and it’s ok for them to be wearing a nappy… because you just never know! In order to keep yourself and (especially) your baby comfortable and warm, you can always cover yourself with a light blanket or large muslin, depending on the temperature in the room you’re in.
Remember that both mum and dad can enjoy some skin-to-skin (it doesn’t just have to be mum!) Not only is it a nice way to get a cuddle with your new baby, but it’s also extremely good for you both, on many different levels, and in this blog post we’ll explore why that is.
- It helps with bonding and calming
Skin-to-skin contact helps increase levels of oxytocin both in mum and baby’s body. Oxytocin is also known as the ‘love hormone’. When it comes to birth, it plays a very important role in helping mum go through the process of labour – oxytocin works with other hormones to help the uterus to contract during childbirth. And after your baby is born, levels of oxytocin will continue to stay high in mum’s body, as the ‘love hormone’ kicks in to help mum produce milk (more on that later) and feel close to her baby.
In a nutshell, having high levels of oxytocin in the body helps both baby and parents feel a strong bond with each other. And seeing that skin-to-skin contact increases levels of oxytocin in the body, we can now see why it’s such a great way to feel close to your baby, and for your baby to feel close to you, whether you’re mum or dad!
- It helps baby stabilise their body temperature
When babies are born, they experience a temperature drop. In the comfort of mum’s womb, they are effectively at ‘body temperature’, so we’re talking about approximately 37 degrees Celsius. As warm as it may be wherever they are born, it’s probably not going to be that hot! So the baby may experience a considerable and sudden temperature drop. And one of the best ways to keep them warm and help them through this transition is to have some skin-to-skin contact. This helps them regulate their own body temperature. As newborn babies cannot do that for themselves, once placed on mum or dad’s chest (perhaps covered with a light blanket or towel), they will start to regulate their body temperature with the help of their parents’ temperature – you should then notice that their body temperature starts to increase a little and get closer to yours. Isn’t this just amazing?
- It stabilises their breathing and their heart rate
It’s not just their own temperature that young babies are unable to control – if you look closely you may notice that their breathing may seem a bit irregular and their heart beat a bit fast. If you have had any scans during your pregnancy, you may have been told (or heard!) that your baby’s heartbeat was always quite high – 140 beats per minute or even higher. That sounds like a lot when an adult’s heartbeat at rest should be around 60-100 beats per minute! When babies are born, their heart beat is still quite high, but it does lower a little. And skin-to-skin contact, once again, helps them regulate it. The same goes with the breathing – while it may look and sound a bit irregular at first, when the baby is placed on their parents’ body, it tends to become more regular and ‘synched’.
- It can help with breastfeeding
If you and your partner have decided to breastfeed your baby, skin-to-skin contact between mum and baby as soon as they are both ready can help with the production of breast milk. As we mentioned earlier, this is greatly helped by the release of oxytocin and of another great hormone called prolactin. But how are hormones released and milk made just because the baby is close to their mum?
The baby is close to the breasts – he or she can see and smell the milk and is instinctively drawn towards it. Put a newborn baby on their mum’s tummy, and you’ll often see them do the ‘breast crawl’, where, somehow, they will make their way towards the breast and try and latch on. Skin-to-skin can encourage this behaviour – it encourages the baby to instinctively reach and ‘root’ for the breast. Equally, with the baby being so close to mum’s body and latching on, signals are sent to mum’s brain that her baby is hungry and more milk is needed. And mum and baby become more in tune with either’s needs.
- It helps mum and baby share ‘good’ bacteria
When a baby is born, their sensitive skin becomes exposed to a range of ‘new’ bacteria. Being close to their parents, and especially their mum, allows them to pick up some of the friendly bacteria from their skin, and this can protect them from catching infections.
Don’t forget that you can continue to enjoy skin-to-skin contact with your baby weeks and months after the birth, which is great to know, especially if you don’t want to or can’t do so straight after birth.
Did you know about skin-to-skin contact? Did you have some skin-to-skin with your baby after they were born or when they were little?