Just as the best place for your baby to grow from conception was in your womb, the best place for baby right after birth is in your arms, against your skin, not in a warmer. Your body is the environment your baby has known. Your newborn has spent the last nine months listening to your heartbeat, feeling you breathe and basking in your warmth.
After birth, skin-to-skin contact promotes the gentle, natural regulation of your baby’s heart rate and body temperature. Keeping your baby naked against your bare skin—covered only by a hat and a warm blanket across their back—helps your newborn establish regular breathing patterns, sustain stable blood sugar levels and keep calm. It also helps you bond with your baby. One amazing study showed that with twins the body will naturally change the temperature of each breast specifically to meet the needs of each baby! Your body is designed to continue to provide the best environment for your baby, even after birth.
Skin-to-skin contact also facilitates breastfeeding. Researchers in Sweden have shown that after a natural, unmedicated birth, a newborn will find their own way from the birthing parent’s belly to the breast and actually latch on without any help. The familiar smell of amniotic fluid on their hands, the smell and warmth of the parent’s skin, the sound of their voice, and the visible presence of their darkened nipple guide the baby to the breast. Just like other mammals, human babies have the best chance of survival when they stay by close by their parents.
For all its physical and emotional benefits, skin-to-skin contact should be a carefully protected routine. The dirty truth is, however, that parents and babies routinely are separated in most hospitals. This practice developed as birth moved into the hospital in the 20th century and very strong drugs left laboring parents delirious and unable to care for their babies after birth. Although times have changed, the practice of separation remains because it is often easier and more efficient for hospital staff. Unless you make your preferences known in your birth plan, your baby may be taken away for immediate examination, to receive routine medications, or to be diapered, bathed and dressed. However, all of these routines can be delayed to allow plenty of uninterrupted skin-to-skin bonding after birth. You also may be encouraged to send your baby to the nursery in order to get some needed sleep. In reality, studies have shown that parents and babies sleep just as well when they are together.
To make sure you and your baby are given time together:
- Request that your newborn be placed on your bare belly or chest right after birth—with a warmed receiving blanket laid over both of you and a hat on baby’s damp head to help keep in the warmth.
- Know what’s routine at your birth setting.
- Talk with your care provider about your desires for baby’s care after birth.
- Request that baby’s examination be postponed or that it take place with your baby in your arms.
- Ask to delay measuring, weighing and giving medications while you get to know your baby.
After all, nothing should interrupt your baby’s assurance that your body is a safe haven.
Adapted from Giving Birth with Confidence.