Who doesn’t love snuggling a baby? I’m smiling ear-to-ear just thinking about that new baby smell, adorable face, cute nose, little hands, a tiny toes. Okay, okay, if you know me, you know I absolutely love babies! And, snuggling my babies, even my big babies, always bring me joy!
If you are pregnant, you may have heard references to skin-to-skin care and may be wondering what is it exactly. Well, keep reading because I am going to tell you what it is and how to make sure that you and your little one are able to take full advantage of that special bonding time so you can both reap the rewards of being wrapped in each other’s embrace.
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What is skin-to-skin care?
Skin-to-skin or kangaroo care is a method of mother-baby interaction. Immediately after birth, the naked baby is placed in an upright or vertical position directly on their mother’s bare chest. The baby is quickly dried, except for their hands. And, blankets are placed around both mother and baby to secure the baby in a kangaroo-like pouch.
This method of care originated in Bogota, Columbia in 1979 out of necessity to care for premature babies. With a shortage of caregivers and incubators, neonatologists began encouraging mothers to keep their babies warm with continuous skin-to-skin contact and nourished through exclusive breastfeeding.
The doctors noticed that these babies thrived and the mothers benefited as well. Once their findings were released, their approach–‘The Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC)’—gained popularity and is now used all over the world for both preterm and term babies. In fact, leading organizations, like the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine (ABM), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend immediate skin-to-skin for all healthy mothers and babies for at least one hour, regardless of method of birth (vaginal or cesarean) or feeding preferences (breastfeeding or bottle feeding).
Benefits of skin-to-skin care for mom and baby.
While you may be eager to know your baby’s measurements, and while the hospital staff may want to quickly get that done, taking the baby’s weight and length can wait. Those first hours immediately after birth are critical, it’s a very sensitive period of time that must be used wisely. There is extensive research that supports mother-baby bonding time through skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth. As such, that first hour after birth has been termed the “golden hour” or “magical hour.” One of Lamaze’s Healthy Birth Practices supports keeping mother and baby together so they have lots of time for uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact, to support bonding and breastfeeding initiation. The newborn assessment or APGAR scoring, cord cutting, temperature check, and security bands can be done with the baby on their mother’s chest, and all other routine procedures such as weight, vaccinations, and the baby’s first bath should take place after that first hour and after the baby’s first breastfeeding session is complete.
So, when your time comes, take full advantage of that “golden hour,” get skin-to-skin, cuddle your baby, sniff your baby, kiss your baby, and soak it all up. There is no greater feeling than seeing your baby for the first time, feeling their tiny body against yours, their little hands moving on your chest, their little feet moving against your belly, and hearing their sweet baby noises. If you think you know what love is, just wait until you have your baby, it’s absolutely love like no other. Cuddling with your baby after birth releases Oxytocin or “the love hormone” and facilitates bonding and secure attachment between mother and child.
A lot of old-school mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers may say, “put some clothes on that baby so he or she doesn’t catch a cold.” However, your body is perfect for your baby, and holding your baby skin-to-skin can benefit them by:
- keeping them warm
- regulating their body temperature
- regulating their heart rate
- stabilizing their blood sugar
- stimulating digestion and their interest in breastfeeding
- colonizing their skin with your good bacteria
- reducing their crying
- reducing pain
- improving sleep
- promoting good brain development
- promoting bonding and secure attachment
But it doesn’t stop there. Skin-to-skin care will benefit you as well, by:
- reducing your stress
- “normalizing” a surgical birth
- helping you come to terms with any birthing difficulties
- stimulating breastfeeding hormones
- reducing postpartum hemorrhage
- reducing postpartum depression
The benefits of skin-to-skin are vast; so, if this sounds like something you’ll want, be sure to take advantage of the opportunity.
Skin-to-skin care when there are birth complications.
Even if there are complications, in many cases, skin-to-skin can still take place. If you have a perineal tear that requires suturing, that can be done with your baby still skin-to-skin. And, if you are not well enough to do skin-to-skin yourself, your partner or another family member could do skin-to-skin. This is such a great opportunity for the baby to bond with the other parent or another family member.
If your baby is unwell and needs immediate care, once he or she is returned to you, they should be undressed or unswaddled and placed on your bare chest for skin-to-skin care. While it’s preferred for skin-to-skin to take place during that “golden hour,” it is actually beneficial at any time. Many families continue skin-to-skin care well into toddlerhood and use it as a way to calm a sad child, soothe a sick child, or simply as a means of connection. So, be sure to remember this mothering technique as your little one grows older.
Things to do to increase your likelihood of skin-to-skin during that “golden hour.”
The benefits of skin-to-skin are becoming more and more well-known. Some hospitals—like baby-friendly hospitals—have policies that promote skin-to-skin, yet, too often it’s a policy that isn’t practiced. Educating yourself on the process is the first step to ensuring your birthing goals are met. Next, I would recommend that you hire a birth doula to support you through the process and to remind you of your goals and that it is okay to say “no” to routine procedures that can disrupt that sensitive “golden hour.” I would also encourage you to create a birth plan in collaboration with your care provider and include skin-to-skin as a preference. Additionally, I recommend that you dress in a way that makes skin-to-skin easy; so, no bras and an easily removable gown, or nothing at all. And, during your labor, make your entire birthing team aware of all of your preferences, including your wishes for immediate and uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact with your little one. Lastly, ask your doula to snap a few photos, you’ll surely want to capture those precious memories.
You are in control! Continue to educate yourself on your birthing preferences, use your voice, and play an active role in your childbirth journey. I hope you found this information helpful.
If you haven’t already, download A Complete Guide: Safe, Peaceful, & Joyous Childbirth Experiences and join our free Facebook group (M.A.M.A.| Safe, Peaceful, & Joyous Childbirth Experiences) to be connected to a network of other birthing mamas supporting each other along their childbirth journeys, from pregnancy through early parenting.
“Greeting Your Baby.” Lamaze International, https://www.lamaze.org/birth-day. Accessed 20 January 2023.
Levine, Jacqueline, et al. “Healthy Birth Practice #6, Keeping Mother and Baby Together Its Best for Mother, Baby, and Breastfeeding.” Lamaze International, 28 June 2011, https://www.lamaze.org/Connecting-the-Dots/Post/healthy-birth-practice-6-keeping-mother-and-baby-together-its-best-for-mother-baby-and-breastfeeding. Accessed 20 January 2023.
Neczypor JL, Holley SL. Providing Evidence-Based Care During the Golden Hour. Nurs Womens Health. 2017 Dec;21(6):462-472. doi: 10.1016/j.nwh.2017.10.011. PMID: 29223210.
“Skin-to-Skin Care.” La Leche League, https://www.llli.org/breastfeeding-info/skin-skin-care/. Accessed 20 January 2023.
“Skin-to-skin contact – Baby Friendly Initiative.” Unicef UK, https://www.unicef.org.uk/babyfriendly/baby-friendly-resources/implementing-standards-resources/skin-to-skin-contact/amp/. Accessed 20 January 2023.
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