Benefits of Skin-to-Skin After Birth
Becoming a mom has been one of the greatest blessings of my life. BUT, I have never felt more inadequate and unprepared than when I gave birth.
I did TONS of research, but I still felt like I was flying by the seat of my pants.
One thing I spent a lot of time researching was the benefits of skin-to-skin after birth. This was in my birth plan, and I made sure it was a priority regardless of how my babies came into this world! I have birthed babies via cesarean section, and vaginally, and both times I was able to do immediate skin-to-skin.
If you can relate to any of this, please keep reading. I’m going to share what I have learned about the benefits of skin-to-skin after birth, as well as how to do skin-to-skin successfully as a new mom. As I often remind everyone, I am not a medical professional. I am a fellow momma who has done a lot of research and I hope what I share from my personal experiences, as well as the links to the research I have found help you to make informed decisions about your birthing and mothering experience.
What is skin-to-skin contact?
If you already know what skin-to-skin contact is, feel free to skip ahead!
Skin-to-skin contact is when a baby’s bare skin is placed on a caregiver’s bare skin. This is also sometimes called kangaroo care. When there was a shortage of incubators for babies in Bogota, Colombia, doctors began to look at nature for guidance, and in this case, specifically kangaroos. Kangaroos hold their young immediately after birth, and doctors saw the benefits that came from that. Then was born the concept of kangaroo care that we now use today with new mothers.
Immediate skin-to-skin contact is what happens when a baby is birthed and placed directly onto another human’s skin, most often their mother’s. Interestingly enough, there are stages your baby goes through beginning with their vaginal exit, and culminating with resting after feeding. In between these two stages, it’s fascinating to see how your baby experiences skin-to-skin with you.
Why is skin-to-skin so important? I’m so glad you asked because there are so many amazing benefits of skin-to-skin contact!
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Benefits of Skin-to-Skin Contact
Helps stabilize your baby
One of the first benefits your baby will receive from their first skin-t0-skin session is that it will help to stabilize their body temperature, heart rate, blood sugar, and rate of breathing. Your baby has had quite the experience being birthed into this world and it can throw their basic systems out of whack. Early skin-to-skin contact will put your baby as close to inside as possible, which helps them to feel more at ease.
Helps Establish Healthy Sleep
Spending the early moments of your baby’s life doing skin-to-skin can also help them with sleep. Who knew? Your newborn will often feel very calm when they’re placed on your chest in a safe space. They’re able to achieve something called “quiet sleep”. Babies have “quiet sleep” and “active sleep”. During active sleep, newborns often move and make noises. But, during quiet sleep, babies are still and quiet. If you watch closely, you’ll easily be able to tell the difference between the two.
Helps calm you and your baby
As I mentioned above, birth can be a very dramatic (and sometimes scary) experience. A simple way to help calm you and your baby is to do skin-to-skin immediately following birth. Doctors are often (not always) able to immediately place your baby on your belly or chest as soon as your baby is earth-side.
Your baby will recognize your heartbeat, and your voice first and foremost. As time goes on, they’ll quickly learn to recognize your smell, especially if you’re breastfeeding and providing their meals.
Helps your colostrum come in
If you’re a first-time mom, you might be anxious about all things. If you’re planning to breastfeed, this will become your next worry. Will my milk come in quickly enough? Will I have to supplement? All the things quickly flood your mind once your baby is here.
The golden hour isn’t just something photographers take advantage of at the time of sunset. There is actually a golden hour associated with giving birth and skin-to-skin contact. The golden hour after birth refers to the first hour after you’ve birthed your baby. It is the most important hour to take advantage of because it’s the time when both you and your baby are in the best space to form a chemical connection with one another. If this isn’t possible due to your birthing circumstance, don’t fret, it’s just something to be aware of, and try to take advantage of that time.
One thing you can do to help your colostrum (and milk) come in more quickly is to do skin-to-skin contact with your baby as often as possible. There are fascinating videos out there that show newly birthed babies trying to make their way to the breast. It is a baby’s natural instinct to begin looking for food, which is amazing to watch!
Also, if you’re planning to breastfeed your baby, early skin-to-skin contact can help improve your chances of successful, long-term breastfeeding with your baby. There is a term called “breast crawl” that refers to a baby making its first trek to the breast during skin-to-skin contact. I found this incredible video that shows a baby doing a breast crawl. Truly, babies know exactly what they’re doing, which blows my mind.
Can Reduce the Risk of Postpartum Depression
When a mother gives birth, her entire world is turned upside down in an instant. even if this isn’t your first birth, your world is going to change because there is now another person who needs your time, attention, and care.
Every new mother has the risk of experiencing postpartum depression with every birth. This is often something that is talked about with your care provider and can happen without you even realizing you’ve begun to show signs and symptoms.
One of the amazing benefits of skin-to-skin contact after giving birth is reducing the risk of postpartum depression. When you’re skin-to-skin with your baby, your body releases the hormone oxytocin. This hormone is beneficial in that it can help lower your stress level and can help regulate your emotional responses.
Reduces Your Baby’s Cortisol Level
Cortisol is a stress hormone that even babies have when first born. As we’ve talked about several times, birth is a very stressful experience for babies. Skin-to-skin contact has been shown to help reduce the level of cortisol in babies and alleviate some of the post-birth stress they can experience.
Common Questions of Skin-to-Skin Contact
How to do Skin-to-Skin Contact
Thankfully, doing skin-to-skin is VERY simple and straightforward. All that is required for skin-to-skin is to place your baby’s bare little body and place it on your chest. It can truly be one of the most calming experiences for both you and your baby after giving birth.
If you’re unable to do skin-to-skin with your baby, it can be done with anyone who can safely hold your baby. Dads often do skin-to-skin as well because it helps with early bonding.
Skin-to-skin contact is most successful when you aren’t distracted. If you’ve already given birth, but you still want to do skin-to-skin with your newborn, you can. Put away your phone, turn off the TV, and get rid of all other distractions. Use this time to focus on every detail of your baby as you both take in the benefits of early skin-to-skin contact.
For many new moms, skin-to-skin comes naturally, but for others, it doesn’t. If you’re struggling with skin-to-skin care, one goal to work towards would be doing kangaroo care for a minimum of 1-2 hours at a time. This will allow your baby to get settled and comfortable, and it will allow you to provide a safe place for your baby to rest peacefully.
For a successful experience of skin-to-skin, make sure you’ve taken care of things that may distract you. Have a snack, use the restroom, put your phone away, and give this time to your baby.
Skin-to-Skin Contact Position
One of the most important parts of skin-to-skin contact is making sure your baby is in a safe position. It is of utmost importance that your baby can always breathe. This means you need to always be aware of the position of their mouth. You always want to make sure their mouth is facing away from your skin enough that they can take in a full breath of air, oftentimes called the “sniffing position”.
One other thing to consider is how tired you are. Safe skin-to-skin requires that you are awake and aware of your baby. If you’re tired and think you may fall asleep, you should consider doing skin-to-skin another time, or let someone else have a turn doing kangaroo care with your baby. This is a safe way to make sure your baby’s airway always remains clear.
For many people, a seat that can recline is most comfortable. You’ll want to take your baby, keep them in their diaper only, and then place them directly on your bare chest in an upright position. Most often, people will place a blanket around the baby’s back to help keep them warm, and a hat on their head to help keep their body heat from escaping.
Skin-to-Skin Contact with Dad
If your baby is going to be doing skin-to-skin contact with dad, there is something you need to be aware of. A mother’s body actually can help cool a baby down or warm them up. But, a man’s body is unable to do this. A man’s body can only help warm a baby up. For this reason, it’s very important that a man make sure the baby doesn’t get too hot while doing skin-to-skin contact.
Can I do skin-to-skin contact if my baby is in the NICU?
For obvious reasons, this is going to need to be answered by your healthcare provider for both you and your baby. Every birth is different and every newborn is different. If your baby is in the NICU, you should absolutely ask about doing kangaroo care with your baby. There have been many research studies done that show there are great benefits for sick babies who have the chance to do kangaroo care.
Talking about giving birth is one of my favorite things here at Cheerfully Simple because it is one of the greatest blessings in life. Skin-to-skin contact after birth is one of the most peaceful things I have experienced as a mother. You’ve just spent 40 weeks growing this tiny human, and sometimes there is a lot of heartaches and physical distress that has come along the way. But in those sweet, precious moments with your new baby, the world stops. Skin-to-skin care after birth is one of the greatest things you can do for yourself and your new baby!
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