Birth Day

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Birth Day

Greeting Your Baby

Nothing can describe the moments when you first gaze at your newborn’s face and the following hours when you marvel at everything your baby does. This time is more than a sequel to birth—it’s another part of the beautiful, unique dance between mother and child. These hours establish the foundation of your future together, allowing love, trust and understanding to grow.

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 with you and touching you, not in a warmer or another person’s arms. 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 warm blanket across the back and a hat, helps your newborn establish regular breathing patterns. It helps your baby sustain stable blood sugar levels. It keeps baby calm, reduces crying and helps you bond with your baby. One amazing study showed that mothers of twins will raise the temperature of each breast differently 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 in natural, unmedicated birth, a newborn will find his own way from his mother’s belly to her breast and actually latch on without any help. The familiar smell of amniotic fluid on his hands, the smell and warmth of his mother’s skin, the sound of her voice and the visible presence of her darkened nipple guide the baby to the breast. Just like other mammals, human babies have the best chance of survival when they start out close together with their mothers.

For all its physical and emotional benefits, skin-to-skin contact should be a carefully protected routine. The dirty truth is, however, that mothers and babies routinely are separated in most hospitals. This practice developed as birth moved into the hospital in the 20th century and when very strong drugs used in labor left mothers delirious and unable to care for their babies after birth. Although times have changed, the practice of separating moms and babies remains because it is often easier and more efficient for hospital staff. Unless you make your preferences known, 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 time after birth. You also may be encouraged to send your baby to the nursery in order to get some needed sleep. In reality, though, studies have shown that mothers 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 you both 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 any examination of baby happen with your baby in your arms, or postponed. Ask to delay measuring, weighing and giving medications while you get to know your baby. Nothing should interrupt your baby’s assurance that your body is a safe haven.

Adapted from The Official Lamaze Guide: Giving Birth with Confidence, 2nd edition.

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