Having uninterrupted skin to skin contact with your baby, as soon as you can, eases the transition from the womb to newborn life.
The Skinny on Skin To Skin
Skin to skin contact, between mother and baby (or dad and baby if Mum needs urgent medical attention), is not a new concept. It’s just that we’ve now become so well informed about its benefits over recent years, that it takes precedence over all the other kerfuffle that surrounds the birth of your baby.
No longer do we allow a stranger to hold them first, whisk them away to be cleaned, wrapped and weighed, then finally place them in mum’s or dad’s long-awaited arms. Nope, now it’s all about the wet, squishy, wriggling baby being caught head first after your last push and then swiftly tossed onto your awaiting chest…and it’s amazing. You are one minute in agony and the very next, there’s this little pink life that you grew snuggling into you…yep it is very cool.
Is This Baby Going To Poo On Me?
Probably, yes, my adorable newborns were more than happy to unload pretty quickly, being as comfortable as they were. Honestly, it won’t even bother you, a midwife will clean it up and you’ll continue on with your special bonding time. There are some pretty important reasons behind why you won’t care about the messy stuff, the benefits of uninterrupted time with the baby undressed on you are amazing:
- Your baby is more likely to latch on to the breast (and latch well, which means more milk!)
- Baby’s body temperature is kept to a normal level even better than in an incubator
- Baby’s heart and breathing rate are maintained and blood pressure is normalised
- Baby’s blood sugar stays higher (low blood glucose is dangerous in babies)
- Baby is so much less likely to cry (reason enough? I think so!)
- Baby is more likely to breastfeed exclusively and breastfeed longer
- Baby can indicate to his mother when he is ready to feed
- Baby is colonised by the same bacteria as mum (helps to avoid allergic disease later)
- Your fancy hormones that make milk are balanced out by this contact and that helps you make more milk
- It can help reduce post-natal depression by reactivating some of the pathways that are negatively affected during childbirth, then the oxytocin release decreases maternal anxiety and aids attachment, which all helps a healthy mind and body.
Is Dad’s Hairy Chest A Problem?
Not if it’s a nice soft, clean patch of hair! Best to make sure daddy doesn’t do any silly manscaping and shave his chest in the last two weeks of your pregnancy, stubble rash on a baby isn’t really very good for their delicate skin. When you get home, there will probably be ample opportunities for sweet dad and bub couch time. Your baby can recognise that daddy voice from when they are in the womb, so this is a great bonding time for them both, also a very calming activity for your baby.
If itchy chest hair or sweating is a problem (baby’s heads sweat to let out excess heat) just lay a cotton wrap between the two of you (or them). Baby can still feel your body heat and hear your heartbeat through the wrap. It will make for a nice sleep for them both and some cute family photos for you!
What If I’m Having A C-Section?
The Baby Friendly Health Initiative, developed jointly by the World Health Organization and UNICEF, recommends the initiation of skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby in theatre following a caesarean birth.
Hospitals everywhere may have different policies due to factors such as staffing levels, room temperature of the theatre (it’s bloody cold) and whether your baby will need some medical assistance after delivery (clearing of mucus from the airways for example) though most will allow a quick on the chest cuddle when baby is warmly wrapped then proper skin to skin time in recovery.
For some hospitals, it is standard to allow skin to skin time immediately after delivery for an extended time, during which the baby can breastfeed and mother and baby can rest.
You will need to check with your chosen hospital on their policy post-cesarean delivery. Perhaps, organising a post delivery plan signed by them will help you to get your wishes granted.
This is skin to skin care from pre-term babies is recommended for the first 20 weeks of their life. Most babies enjoying kangaroo care will be in a baby wrap (if you need hands-free) on their mother’s or father’s chest for the majority of the day and night, as long as both parties are happy. If your baby is fussing and pushing away, by all means, put them down and have a break!
Kangaroo care offers major benefits to pre-term babies:
- Thermal regulation is a problem in most premmie babies, and being that your skin is the same temperature as your womb, it helps with that regulation and adjustment to the outside world.
- Brain development is increased due to normalised heart rate and oxygen delivery (even if an oxygen tube is being used, kangaroo care is still possible) and improved sleep.
- Weight gain is dramatically increased as the baby does not have to use their own energy to control body temperature. Not to mention being very close to the milk bar does increase the frequency and length of breastfeeding (totally do-able in a wrap) when baby can smell their dinner so close by!
What If It Is Not Possible?
I had skin to skin time with our firstborn for an hour only before I was whisked away to the operating theatre for repairs to a leaking something-something. In that time, my baby did not breastfeed and that did worry me. He did, however, guzzle via syringe about 6ml of expressed colostrum (I had a stash seeing as I was diabetic and they worry about baby glucose levels) whilst having a beautiful chest to chest cuddle with daddy. I returned a few hours later all fixed up and off my face groggy to a tired but chuffed expert baby daddy and a sleeping newborn that breastfed just fine at 1 am the next morning. That little guzzler continued to feed for another three years.
If you can’t have skin to skin time straight after birthing your baby for medical reasons, your focus should probably be on getting through that and getting back to your baby nice and healthy. Your baby can always have some skin to skin time with daddy or get all nice and snug in a rug ready for when you can have your time together. You can stay that way for as long as you like.
Beyond The Delivery Room
Skin to skin is a time for comfort and connecting that goes well past the first hour after birthing.
You can do it anytime you want to. Grab a bathrobe and make it your outfit for the next few weeks. It’ll save you so much time getting your shirt on and off. You can leave your baby’s nappy on if you want to, or take it off if you think they are too warm and you’re trying to reduce their temperature.
Even just having small amounts of skin to skin time, as little as 10 minutes, has shown to decrease a baby’s stress chemical levels (cortisol in the brain, stress-related stuff) and release oxytocin, which is the good one that makes you both calm and all lovey-dovey. Naturally, it helps make more milk too.