Beyond Bonding

Skin-to-skin contact between mothers and newborns provides multiple benefits

Though it was only minutes, it probably felt like an eternity for many moms: the time between the assessment of their baby after delivery and the chance to hold their newborn child close to their heart.  But the initiative to provide immediate skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby is gaining popularity for OB/GYN doctors, hospital staff—and, of course, new moms—across the country.

“Getting the baby right to mom is a very important concept,” says OB/GYN Elizabeth McIntosh, MD. “Several studies have shown that, beyond bonding, the skin-to-skin contact between a mom and her newborn helps the baby regulate his or her temperature, heart rate, and breathing rate. It also helps to keep the baby’s blood sugars more stable.”

The First Moments Of Sharing

After a routine delivery, Dr. McIntosh and the nursing staff St. Joseph’s/Candler’s Telfair BirthPlace will help the mom adjust her gown and lay the baby—naked, without a blanket—right on her chest.  It is the mom’s warmth and heart rate that help the baby to regulate his or her own.  

“Meanwhile, most of the routine initial assessments of the baby can be done while he or she is on mom’s chest,” McIntosh says.

Ideally, the mother and child have thirty minutes to an hour after delivery to enjoy this interaction.

“Skin-to-skin contact allows mom and baby to exchange normal skin flora as well,” McIntosh adds.  “The good bacteria shared between the mom and baby can help boost the baby’s immune system and lead to fewer systemic allergies. This is in addition to breastfeeding, which skin-to-skin contact can encourage.”

Since their heart and breathing rates are more stable with skin-to-skin contact, newborns are more likely to be calm and to start rooting, or naturally seeking out their mother’s breast.

“The baby may even latch on well, with less intervention,” McIntosh says.  

The baby’s rooting, along with his or her scent, helps the mother release oxytocin from her brain.

“Oxytocin is created by the pituitary gland and is sometimes called the bonding hormone,” McIntosh says. “It stimulates motherly feelings of love and affection and also promotes milk letdown.”

Baby’s Safety Comes First

Complications with delivery will postpone the skin-to-skin experience.

“If the baby is not transitioning well in the immediate post-partum period, that necessitates a closer evaluation that can’t be done while the baby is on mom’s chest,” she says.  Though it is possible for skin-to-skin contact to occur after a Cesarean delivery or a premature delivery after 35 weeks, these situations are decided on a case-by-case basis.

It is important for parents to understand that their physician and the clinical staff must ultimately determine if skin-to-skin contact immediately after delivery is possible. That decision is always made on through the same principle: baby’s safety comes first.

“Most severely premature babies, for example, are going to need help breathing,” McIntosh says. “But there are opportunities in the Level II Neonatal Unit for some skin-to-skin contact in certain situations.”

A More Personal Experience

Dr. McIntosh notes that some moms request skin-to-skin contact even if they are not fully aware of the research behind its effect on things like heart rate and blood sugar.

“Hospitals are beginning these initiatives and I think some of the drive behind them is moms,” Mcintosh says. “Mothers have been inquiring why deliveries couldn’t be more personal and less clinical.”

As skin-to-skin contact continues to gain recognition for its importance, Dr. McIntosh is excited to be among those doctors and nurses encouraging its practice.

“We’re making a big push for it,” McIntosh says. “We talk with our mothers-to-be about it ahead of time, and the labor and delivery staff in the Telfair
BirthPlace are very involved in trying not to separate a new mom and her baby.”

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And Remember, It's Not Just For Moms

Dads-to-be may want to remind themselves to wear a buttoned shirt to their child’s delivery. It may be their chance to channel their inner Superman and provide those first health benefits to their son or daughter.

“Dads are in the delivery room, whether it’s a Cesarean or vaginal birth, and if for some reason we can’t get the baby skin-to-skin with mom, dads are opening up their shirts,” says Dr. Elizabeth McIntosh.  “Those initial benefits to the baby still apply.”

That means babies that are skin-to-skin with their dads can better regulate their temperature, heart rate, breathing rate, and blood sugar, just like with mom. They can also exchange the skin flora with dad as well.

“Of course this promotes bonding as well,” McIntosh says. “Skin-to-skin contact is important for both moms and dads.”

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