Me: “I wish it had felt this easy the first time. I’d be a different mother.”
Husband: “You are a different mother, that’s why it’s easier.”
He’s right, I am different, and not just because I’ve mastered the art of explaining to two-year-olds why it’s not a good idea to blend the words “frog” and “yuck.”
When I look back at the decisions I’ve made as a mother things have definitely changed . . . even when they technically stayed the same!
Take skin-to-skin care for example. We all know that it means putting a newborn baby on our chest right after birth, but for how long? Is five minutes enough? Fifty? Five hours? How I answered that question after each of my births deeply affected my experience as a mother, and it got me asking other questions, like:
Can mom’s who undergo c-sections do it? Can dads do it safely? Should I swaddle my baby or snuggle them?
Skin-to-Skin: The Basics
Though seemingly simple, this practice has so many proven benefits that it is recommended by the World Health Organization, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, and the Neonatal Resuscitation Program.
In case you missed them, here are 7 benefits of skin-to-skin after birth.
Care Immediately After Birth
When skin-to-skin is practiced immediately after birth there are just three basic steps:
1. Place baby naked on the mother’s bare chest so that they are nestled chest to chest.
2. Turn baby’s face to the side in a position that opens baby’s airway.
3. Allow baby to stay snuggled for the recommended period of time. Routine procedures such as weighing and measuring should be delayed until after this period.
What is that period of time, you ask? Unfortunately, each organization has very different guidelines on that.
The World Health Organization says that newborns “without complications should be kept in skin-to-skin contact with their mothers during the first hour after birth to prevent hypothermia and promote breastfeeding.” (source, emphasis mine)
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends until the first breastfeeding. Barbara Harper, R.N. Midwife, and Founder of Waterbirth International, recommends a minimum of two hours. (source)
What I did: I practiced skin-to-skin immediately after each baby was born until the first breastfeeding. I was under the impression that everyone agreed this was “normal” best practice. I found out AFTER #3 was born that some experts recommend immediate skin to skin for up to 2 hours before allowing the baby to be examined by a professional.
Would I do things differently if I knew then what I know know? Most definitely. I don’t beat myself up for doing the best I knew to do at the time, but in hopes that this info can help a mother-to-be I wanted to share it. Every moment is precious, and the birth exam can easily be postponed until you and baby are ready.
But What About After Day 1?
Babies can benefit from skin-to-skin care in the days, weeks, and even months following birth. In fact, it is often recommended that kangaroo care be practiced up to 3 months old for full-term babies and 6 months old for preemies. (source)
Here’s how to do it:
1. Unwrap your baby so that he/she is wearing nothing but a diaper.
2. Turn baby’s face to the side in a position that opens baby’s airway. (Like this) Some organizations recommend a stretchy wrap to hold baby in place for “prolonged care” (See guidelines for proper technique here and here)
2. Keep baby nestled for a minimum of one hour.
It is important for your baby to go through a full sleep-wake cycle which is usually about 60 minutes as a minimum to get the full benefits of SSC, and to get her biological systems stabilised. For a tiny [preemie], their body systems will not be mature enough to stabilise themselves, so mothers chest helps them to settle in to a sleep-cycling and feeding rhythm.” (source)
What About Swaddling?
After reading The Happiest Baby On The Block while pregnant for the first time, I developed a personal mission to swaddle everything that moved. My cat looked a little stressed – maybe I should swaddle it. Uh oh, my boss is cranky . . . I’m going to need a bigger blanket. When my firstborn arrived, I swaddled her, too!
Later on I learned that in this study, babies who were swaddled immediately after birth “showed delayed feeding behaviors” and “suckled less competently at their first breastfeeding.” (source)
Though the swaddled group did seem to catch up by the time they were one month old, I personally decided to forego swaddling in the first few weeks after my two youngest were born. I didn’t notice a major difference in breastfeeding, but I did find that my boys and I both slept better, and I loved every minute of it.
When they got a bit older and their startle reflex started to kick in I used this hip healthy swaddling technique to help me settle them for naps. Though everyone’s technique is different, I actually wait until mine fall asleep to wrap them so that they can use their hands to help with breastfeeding.
Can I Do Skin-To-Skin If I Have A Cesarean?
In most cases, yes! There is ample evidence that skin-to-skin care after a cesarean is safe and beneficial for baby. Here’s one woman’s story of practicing skin-to-skin while still in the operating room. This interview with a doula is full of helpful information on how to gain the cooperation of doctors and hospitals.
What About Dads?
This practice is highly recommended for dads. “Paternal skin-to-skin contact has been shown to be safe and effective for temperature regulation and for cardiorespiratory stabilization.” (source) Babies can also benefit from skin-to-skin with adoptive parents, grandparents, siblings and even doctors when necessary.
When my third baby was about three months old we took him to the mall to pick up a few things. While there, he bellowed so loudly I’m pretty sure folks heard it in the parking lot.
You know what surprised me? It wasn’t that babies cry . . . it was that I’d never really heard **this** baby cry. Though I practiced skin-to-skin immediately after birth with each of my children, each time I increased the amount of skin-to-skin care I gave in the following weeks and months. It made a huge difference in how content babies #2 an #3 were and it made life much less stressful for me – I highly recommend it!
Did you practice skin-to-skin? What was your experience?
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