One of the most beautiful gifts a mother can give her child is attachment. It fosters a feeling of security. It says to your child, "You are not alone in this world". It outlasts physical presence.
As a dermatologist with a focus on the skin, I have long known of the medical benefits of skin to skin contact in the newborn period. As a mom, I have lived them.
Many of the exceptional benefits of skin to skin contact in the first hour of life were enumerated in an article by research scientists Widstrom et al.
We know that immediate skin to skin contact has advantages for both mom and baby in that critical time after birth. Some of these benefits include
Reduced bleeding in mom
Earlier delivery of the placenta
Ease of breast feeding
Lowered maternal stress
Lower stress in baby.
In fact, the WHO (World Health Organization) included skin to skin contact in their recommendations for the most successful steps for breastfeeding. But sadly, perplexingly, astonishingly, it's been slow to catch on. Maybe it's because the seemingly simple things are first to get overlooked. Or maybe it's because people don't understand the science of it all.
So here we go.
In the period immediately after birth, mom's oxytocin level is extremely high. Oxytocin is known as the maternal hormone.
Oxytocin serves many purposes. It contacts the uterus to stop bleeding. It seems to develop the "maternal instinct", the sense that mother uses to protect her young. It is thought that it contributes to a mom's desire to keep her babies close after birth, and is enhanced by a baby's suckling or even a simple touch of her nipple in the first hour of birth. Its effects continue.
They enhance a mother's senses, and protect her infant.
Oxytocin is released by both mother and baby after suckling. This stimulates the release of gastrointestinal hormones (SSK and gastrin) that lead to better sleep after baby nurses, and everyone knows a new mama and her baby need sleep.
Oxytocin (released in part by skin to skin) helps with the arrival of colostrum. In the first 24 hours of life, the scent of this early milk increases the amount of oxygenated blood cells in the part of the brain that is associated with scent, helping baby to recognize and remember the scent of his mama.
According to Widstrom, being skin to skin with mom after birth helps babies to go through what are considered the nine instinctive stages: birth cry, relaxation, awakening, activity, rest, crawling, familiarization, suckling and sleeping. It is thought that these help a new baby to learn how to self regulate, something she can carry with her throughout her life. They also help develop a baby's five senses!
Immediately after birth, baby's catecholamines (hormone neurotransmitters) are exceptionally high (20 X higher than those of a resting adult). This has been labeled “good stress”. When baby is placed skin to skin, these catecholamine good stresses help strengthen memory, and bond between mom and baby grows stronger.
The body has evolved remarkable ways to connect mom and her baby. In the immediate period of birth, when baby roots for the nipple, and eyesight is just developing, baby is aided by the fact that the skin has darkened around the nipple. Babies see contrast, and this darkening of the nipple skin illuminates the path to invaluable colostrum, full of antibodies from mom.
When babies are placed skin to skin after birth, researchers believe that babies blood sugar levels are optimized, which can reduce the risk of adverse events in that delicate neonatal period.
Widstrom describes that during those nine instinctive stages that happen when skin to skin is embraced, a baby will search for eye contact with mother within the first hour, eyes that baby has not yet seen but who belong to a person she already knows well.
Let’s face it; skin to skin is crucial. It is not just for the birth mother-baby dyad, but helpful also when others are able to safely to perform skin to skin. It's a family affair!
I loved this guide on safe interactive skin to skin. Good luck new parents. You've got this.