Your baby is born and you meet for the very first time. Her lungs are expanding and she begins taking her first breaths. Blood is still pumping from the placenta into her body, rich with oxygen and nutrients that can be wasted if cut too soon. As you and your baby gaze into each other’s eyes, smell each other and explore around each other’s amazing bodies, maybe the first feed happens. Her mouth meets your breast and the love hormone oxytocin is surging through you both. These magical, raw and beautiful first few minutes make up The Golden Hours.
There is an overwhelming body of evidence to prove that undisturbed skin-to-skin after birth has positive effects for both mother and baby, but sadly a lot of what we do during birth and immediately after does get in the way of the oxytocin-rich environment post-birth. It’s probably obvious to most of us that drugs and instruments and surgical procedures hinder the baby’s natural instincts to latch on for that first feed, but what about the routine procedures, even after a non-medicated birth? Things like:
- Early cord clamping
- Separating mother and baby after birth for whatever reason
- Cleaning and swaddling the baby before presenting to the mother in arms rather than chest
- Weighing the baby, dressing the baby with nappy, sleep suit and hat (!)
- Bright lights, staff entering and leaving, photos, beeping machines, phone calls
- Mother being washed too soon / baby being washed too soon. As mammals we imprint on each other via smell and pheromones- vital for safe and close attachment
- Mother and baby not kept warm, safe, private, unobserved.
What are the benefits of an undisturbed first few hours?
Your baby entering the world, leaving your body after 10 months of closely guarded protection, is a big emotional and physical shift to say the least and instinctively, most women (although not all) will want to scoop their babies up and keep them close. Feeling that skin on skin contact keeps the surges of oxytocin, flooding your every cell. When this happens, just like in childbirth, your uterus contracts and then the placenta can follow more quickly and easily, reducing the risk of postpartum haemorrhage. Meanwhile the Motherbaby dyad are closely connected, already learning a thousand things about each other, smells, sights, sounds. The mother will already begin to recognise the early cues that her baby is giving her to feed – communicating earthside for the first time.
One of the things a Doula can do is to support you to have the optimal experience in your Golden Hours. I’ve spoken to many mothers who say that once their baby was born it was a bit of a blur and they don’t know what happened with the placenta, cord cutting or why baby was taken to be weighed at that particular moment, how a hat got on her head etc etc etc. A Doula can help to keep Motherbaby together, as a Dyad, preferably, skin-to-skin, uninterrupted and undisturbed for as long as possible. Because we know the benefits, the evidence and we will know that the baby will weigh the same an hour or two after birth as they do the second they emerge, there really is no rush to weigh them!
It’s also common for caregivers to help the mother and baby with the first latch, but in most cases, this is unnecessary. When babies who have not been exposed to medication, are placed skin to skin with their mothers and left undisturbed, they will instinctually crawl to their mother’s breast and attach themselves to the nipple. This is now known as the ‘breast crawl’ and was first observed by Swedish researchers in the 1980s. There are lots of lovely You Tube videos on this if you search 'newborn breast crawl.' Here is one for example.
Lots of skin-to-skin with the mother can also help babies born after a medicated birth or a c-section to find their way to the nipple.
When it comes to feeding, as Doulas we will encourage uninterrupted skin-to-skin with mother until the first feed is completed at least, and then as much as possible for the first week, or even two or three weeks! It’s called the Golden Hours (plural) for a very good reason! I know of a Postnatal Doula who is on the firm-side with her clients. She tucks the mother and baby up together during her postnatal visits and arranges for the second Saturday after the birth to be an Open House for visitors. They are permitted to come if, and only if they bring food for the new mother and father, the baby stays in the mothers arms the entire time and they are gone within two hours! I just love her for this. Now, I’m not sure I will enforce these rules in my postnatal doula support just yet, BUT I respect why she does this and between you and me I sort of wish I had her after my own first birth!
*It’s important to mention, that Doulas just want you to know your options and of course, this includes being presented with a nice clean baby in a pretty blanket for your first cuddle if that is what you want. It also includes Dad having the first cuddle if that's your choice, or visitors filling your house on day 2 postpartum. It’s my job to give you all the information, all the reading and evidence, all your options, then support your decision whatever that is.
My Top 3 Golden Hours Signposts
(Some evidence from studies on skin-to-skin.)
Dr Bergman developed and implemented Kangaroo Mothercare (KMC) for premature infants from birth.
3) http://www.homebirth.org.uk/ (scroll down to Third Stage)