This morning I woke up at 4:30 am and drove 300 miles north on I-5 for a conference at Evergreen Hospital in Kirkland, Washington to hear Dr. Nils Bergman speak about “Improving Neonatal Outcomes Through Neuroscience.” After I write this post and eat a little dinner, I will make the 3 hour drive back home. I’m happy to report that this conference was worth the gasoline.
If I weren’t a Childbirth Educator, there’s two other professions that I would seriously consider pursuing. I’d either be a Neurobiologist or a Rock Star. Dr. Bergman’s slides were not great – too much information, tiny print, super medicalized and he probably had 30 hours worth of content he was trying to cram into 16 hours over two days…
But his passion for the work of getting mothers and babies, or fathers and babies together for continuous skin-to-skin contact following birth is palpable and contagious. And as he spoke of the various hormones and regions of the brain that are directly affected by skin-to-skin (Cholecystokinin and anterior cingulate cortex, anyone? Anyone?) my wannabe neurobiologist self totally geeked out and I hung on his every word. I can’t wait for his slides to become available so that I can read all of the studies that he referenced today in their entirety. There were so many things to take away from his presentation, but the one I want to focus on is how long Dr. Bergman feels the baby should be skin-to-skin with Momma on the other side of birth.
You may have heard of the “Golden Hour” and there are lots of hospitals that are incorporating immediate skin-to-skin contact between mothers and babies – even after Cesarean birth, if possible. I’m lucky to work for a hospital system that has actual written policies supporting this incredibly important practice.
The idea is to place the baby on Momma’s chest and leave them there undisturbed until after the first feeding. That means tests and procedures, even weight and length measurements, can all be delayed so that the Momma and baby can bond and attach to one another and breastfeeding can be established.
Skin-to-skin helps the baby regulate their own body temperature. Momma’s core body temperature will adjust by a full 2 degrees to meet the baby’s needs – if they are chilly at birth, she will warm them up and if the baby is overheated, she will cool them down! Amazing!
Skin-to-skin contact does so much more than establish breastfeeding, regulate temperature and facilitate bonding and attachment! But honestly, if I start going off on all the other ways that skin-to-skin matters for Mommas and babies, this will end up being a novella, not a blog post. Suffice it to say, that the very best place for baby to be following birth is on Momma’s chest. If she’s not available to provide skin-to-skin, then Dad needs to take off his shirt and get that baby on their chest.
But here’s the thing that Dr. Bergman said over and over and over again today that really blew my mind! In order for all of the tremendous long-term benefits to be realized with skin-to-skin contact, we have to look well beyond that first hour of uninterrupted time directly following birth. He kept saying how important the first 1,000 minutes were! That translates to almost 17 hours of skin-to-skin contact as the ideal length of time for all of the regulatory behaviors to be established to help the baby and Mommas transition. Seventeen hours!
I’ve always preached to my families (even before the policies…) that they should be skin-to-skin with their babies for as long as possible! Not just in the hospital, but for the first two weeks at home, at least. I hadn’t read all of the science backing skin-to-skin, (because there is a ton of science backing this!) I was just working on instinct and what I knew would feel good for this new little family on the other side of birth. Any amount of time holding your baby skin-to-skin will never be anything but positive – all that oxytocin flowing from Momma to baby and back again. It does so much good for a new little family!
But can you imagine what hospitals would be like if we created policies that honored the first 1,000 minutes of life? If we left Momma, Dad and baby to bond and attach without disturbance for the better part of a day, there could only be great results! Whatever the policies are at your place of birth, make sure to honor that special time with your baby following their arrival. This is not the time to show the baby off to the grandparents and cousins. It’s a time to connect with one another as a new family – a time for all the good stuff of skin-to-skin contact to be realized by all of you. Get as much of it as you can for as long as possible! You’ll love it – and your baby will too!
Did you get to hold your baby skin-to-skin after they were born? For how long? Why would you recommend it for new parents?