Last week myself and another postpartum doula on our team, spent five long days learning about lactation at The Lactation Counselor Training Course through The Healthy Children Project. It was eye-opening in so many ways even after having breastfed my own children for a combined total of more than 5 ½ years.
So, I wanted to share just one golden nugget that was impressed upon us at the training: The importance of skin-to-skin time after birth.
It turns out skin contact between mother and baby after birth is not just a nice idea AND the length of time that it happens matters.
Checking off a box after a few minutes of direct skin contact is not really enough.
There are physiological reasons why this time is extremely important for mothers and babies. After the release of the placenta, hormone receptor sites in the breasts are primed and ready to receive the milk-making hormone, prolactin. Prolactin is dependent on nipple stimulation. By putting babies directly on their mother’s chest skin-to-skin for 1 hour after birth we maximize and protect this milk-making process. This early contact can have lasting effects on a mother’s ability to make milk for her baby. When we interrupt this process there can be a negative impact.
Preserving this skin contact for the first hour and supporting early feeding is one of the most powerful steps in promoting breastfeeding success.
Why isn’t a few minutes of skin-to-skin enough?
Research tells us that in the first hour of birth babies transition through the same 9 states: 1) Birth Cry 2) Relaxation 3) Awakening 4) Activity 5) Rest 6) Crawling/Sliding 7) Familiarization 8) Suckling 9) Sleeping. Keeping babies skin to skin for an hour allows them to go through these natural states. For more information on this check out the move The Magical Hour.
Babies use their senses to reach the breast. Babies are receptive to the smell of their mother. Exposure to the mother’s odor can help the baby adapt to her new world. It can also calm her during painful procedures.
Skin-to-skin time promotes: correct suckling, less crying, increased milk volume, helps to maintain infant temperature.
When babies are with their mothers, in close proximity, mothers and babies can learn together, mothers can observe for feeding cues and babies can be fed at their best times.
Risks of delayed breastfeeding in the hours after birth include: less chance of prolactin receptors being activated, less confidence for the mother, less milk supply, a higher risk of baby having jaundice, hypoglycemia, and others.
If breastfeeding is important to you, or you want a better start with the next baby – make a plan to implement skin-to-skin time for at least an hour or more with your baby immediately after birth. If there are medical reasons that keep you and your baby apart after birth, start as soon as possible. You will not regret it.