Skin To Skin - It's Not Just For That First Hour After Birth
I’m passionate about birth. However, I’ve never been militant about the way my client’s give birth. I have no preconceived notions about the best way to give birth. I feel the best way, really, to give birth is informed about all your options and all the benefits and risks of those options and that you feel safe and supported.
But I do feel very passionate about Skin To Skin. Skin to skin is having baby lay naked (with or without a diaper) on your chest immediately after birth for an hour or more and then continuing skin to skin with baby any time you can. I usually say, if you don’t know what to do with baby, put them skin to skin. It will calm your baby pretty quickly (unless they are hungry)
Skin to skin has so many benefits, not just for baby but for you too.
1. Keeping baby warm. Skin to skin will keep baby warmer than if they were swaddled in an incubator. In fact, skin to skin will keep baby at a constant temperature. You are a thermoregulator and your body will heat and cool depending on what baby needs.
2. Normalizes baby’s blood sugar. If you are gestationally diabetic then having baby skin to skin will help with baby’s blood sugar and limit the need for formula if baby’s sugars are off due to your gestational diabetes.
3. Keeping baby skin to skin will help with body feeding. It will release oxytocin and prolactin, which are important hormones for lactation.
4. Colonizes baby’s gut flora and exposes them to the bacteria that you are bringing to the mix and that they will ultimately be exposed to when you take them home. Plus, if baby has any bacteria on them that could make them sick, you will also be exposed to it and immediately begin to make antibodies to pass on to baby via breastfeeding.
5. Stabilizes baby’s breathing and heart rate. While baby is in your womb their heart rate is in the 120’s to 150’s+ But when they are born their heart rate slows down and studies have shown that baby’s heart rate will synchronize with their parent after an hour or more of skin to skin. So that’s cool!!
6. Helps baby gain weight. We are always worried about baby’s weight especially in the first couple of weeks. But because skin to skin can help with body feeding and keeping baby calm, these contribute to baby putting on that weight they would have lost in the first day or so after birth.
7. Skin to skin also helps lower the risk of postpartum mood disorders in the birth parent. The release of oxytocin and bonding with baby will help stabilize your mood and oxytocin makes you feel amazing. It’s the love hormone by the way.
What About Your Partner?
Skin to skin is not just for the birthing parent. Male parents, dads, can and should do skin to skin with their baby too. It can help with bonding with their newborn, that doesn't involve food and give the feeding parent a break from baby and becoming "touched out". However, the male parent is not a thermoregulator. So, their body will just keep heating and eventually they and baby will become too hot. Their limit is about 60 to 90 minutes. So, if dad is starting to get sweaty or hot, it will be time to pass baby off to mum.
When do you stop Skin to skin?
I joke that you stop doing skin to skin when it becomes weird, and your child no longer wants to. But it’s recommended that for healthy newborns the benefits can exist up to 3 months of age and for premature babies, the recommendation is 6 months. Ultimately the time you stop is up to you and baby.
Birthing parents are bilateral thermoregulators. Which means, if you have twins and you hold both skin to skin, if one baby is too hot, that side of your body will cool down, if the other baby is too cold, that side will heat up depending on what each individual baby needs. So very cool…
I remember many years ago doing feeding support with a client and baby had been bundled up and sleeping in a solarium type area in their condo. We stripped baby down to their underwear and put them skin to skin on mum and her body began to shake as her own body temperature rapidly dropped to cool baby down as they were far too warm.
I love skin to skin, and I highly encourage you to adopt it to calm a crying baby and feeding baby skin to skin to maximize your release of hormones and help with your supply.