House Calls: Skin-to-skin contact for newborns

By Jeannine Williams-Barnard September 23, 2013 04:40 pm

Jeannine Williams-Barnard is a registered nurse for the Family Birth Center at Sutter Coast Hospital.

Remember the old images of a baby being born, held upside down by the feet and spanked by the doctor to make it cry?

I’m not sure if this was actually ever done to newborns, but one thing is clear — when it comes to the experience of being born, we’ve come a long way, baby!

 All of the major organizations involved with improving health of newborns, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine and the World Health Organization recommend skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth for all stable mothers and babies.

Following Sutter Health’s lead, the staff at Sutter Coast Hospital’s Family Birth Center began practicing the “Golden Hour” of skin-to-skin bonding time a few years ago, and have seen first-hand the benefits to both mothers and babies. 

Our efforts to promote skin-to-skin bonding time led to major changes in the way mothers undergoing caesarean sections receive recovery room care as well. Previously, mothers moved from the operating room to the recovery room, causing a delay in contact with their babies. Now, mothers proceed from the operating room directly back to their Family Birth Center room for recovery and simultaneous bonding time. 

To further reduce any delay in bonding, we are beginning to give thought to how to safely achieve skin-to-skin contact in the operating room for mothers who would like to try.

If a fetus is fortunate enough to receive his fully allotted time in the womb, he has had all of his needs met by his mother’s body — nutrition, warmth, protection, oxygen. He has also been constantly close to the sound of his mother’s heartbeat and her voice. Following birth, it makes sense that the same body that provided everything he needed would continue to be his source of comfort and security in the outside world.

Sounds great, but aren’t newborns wet and messy?

Immediately following vaginal birth, as soon as the umbilical cord is cut, a warm towel is placed on mom to receive the baby. The baby  receives a quick drying off as it lays directly on her chest.  The towel is removed and the baby is then placed skin-to-skin. This process typically takes less than 30 seconds.

Being skin to skin with mom for the next one to two hours improves the newborn’s breathing pattern, regulates the blood pressure, helps stabilize blood sugar, reduces stress hormones, promotes brain development, maintains the optimal temperature, decreases crying (a sign of distress) and allows the baby to prepare for, and successfully take in the first feeding; either by breast or bottle. Research shows that there are likely psychological advantages as well,  as the newborn is protected from the well documented effects of maternal separation.

There are benefits for mom too — hormones that increase the feelings of attachment, such as oxytocin (also called the love hormone) are measurably higher during skin-to-skin contact with baby.

Results last well beyond the newborn period. Studies have shown that at three months, mothers with early skin-to-skin contact kissed their babies more and spent more time looking into their infant’s faces. At one year, they showed more touching, holding, positive speaking behaviors and breastfed their babies longer.

Fathers, family members and friends who are witness to the miracle of birth at Sutter Coast can assist in a couple of important ways. First, be aware that routine tasks such as measurements, footprints and bathing will be delayed until after the initial skin-to-skin bonding time. Second, (and hardest of all!) be patient as you wait for your chance to hold the new baby, knowing that this Golden Hour, once lost, cannot be relived. 

It is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience for your newborn.