Baby’s First Cuddle – Skin to Skin
You are looking forward to seeing and holding your baby. The first contact between you and your baby is such an important one. It should last for as long as you want it to and at least until after your baby’s first breastfeed. After your long journey to meet each other this first cuddle will help both of you feel calm and relaxed; you will also be helping your baby get used to his new world.
Skin to skin contact is recommended for mum’s and babies for many reasons and all of them are linked to supporting your bond and nourishing your baby.
By holding your baby close, you regulate their temperature with your own. Similarly, you heart rate and breathing regulates theirs so they maintain an even level of blood sugar. Your baby might still cry during your first skin to skin contact if it is immediately after birth but don't worry, this is called the 'birth cry' and it helps babies clear their lungs of amniotic fluid to help them breathe.
Your baby will feel happy and reassured by being in close contact and it also allows baby's skin to collect your healthy bacteria which is less scary than it sounds. Your bacteria coats baby's skin to give him or her an extra layer of protection against infection. In line with this, it is increasingly recommended that you don't wash baby in the first few days to allow the white coating on your baby's skin, the 'vernix', to be absorbed by their skin. The vernix is a natural moisturiser for baby and becomes less and less obvious as it is soaked into the skin.
There are mental as well as physical benefits to skin to skin as cuddling your newborn helps release oxytocin and prolactin, hormones which help support breastfeeding and your overall bond. Your baby will also start to show feeding behaviours (mentioned in more detail below) and his or her digestion will be stimulated.
Skin to skin has benefits no matter what stage your baby is born, even if they are early. Your health care professional will advise on when this is most suitable if your baby is preterm and will support you with your feeding decisions as you may be required to express milk for your baby if you intend to breastfeed.
How is skin to skin done?
You will be able to guide the health care professionals looking after you during your birth through your birth plan and advise if you would like your baby handed to you immediately or cleaned lightly with a towel. Following your preferences, baby will be passed to you for you to place them naked onto your abdomen or chest.
In line with your pre birth decisions, you are able to speak to your health care professionals about delaying when the umbilical cord is cut. You may choose to delay this process as it has various benefits to your baby.
Following birth, babies have a natural instinct to feed and when experiencing uniterrupted skin to skin contact your baby will go through the following steps to initiate his or her first feed:
- Continue the birth cry for a short while
- Will start to relax and go to sleep – this will help baby recover from the birth
- Will start to wake up; may start to show signs of early feeding cues
- Will start to move around gently at first; some babies may make a big lurch for your breast or up toward your chest if they are on your abdomen – it can be quite scary! But it is normal behaviour – don’t stop baby from moving by holding him tightly or prevent him from making his way to your breast
- Your baby will start to crawl toward your breast – just keep your hands loosely over or near baby – try not to prevent baby’s movements – it’s difficult because instinctively you’ll want to help him but he can do it himself – just don’t rush him!
- It’s a big journey for your baby to reach your breast and especially after having just been born! So he may well have another rest – don’t mistake this time for him not wanting to feed - just wait for him to wake up again
- Now he is showing early feeding cues – licking lips and your nipple, moving his head, nuzzling and smelling you. After a while he will self-attach and feed. If baby's latch feels uncomfortable you may need to help them unlatch and relatch with the support of your health care professional*
- He may stop and start – there is no rush for his first feed, he’ll finish when he is ready and go to sleep
Ideally, this process shouldn’t be interrupted for routine baby birth checks. Everyone wants to know how much baby weighs but this and all the other checks can wait until baby has fed. By letting babies complete the baby crawl and have their first feed will help them to remember what to do at the next feed.
There are times when you and baby are not able to begin skin to skin immediately at birth – baby is born early or there is a problem at the birth which requires baby to be looked after by the neonatal staff; or it could be medication you have received during labour that may make baby less responsive to feeding, you may be tired or you may require further support to repair any perineal damage.
In these circumstances your health professional will advise what is best to do; skin to skin may still be the best advice for you and baby or it may be that your partner has some skin to skin time with your baby too to support their bond in the mean time.
Gosh! That’s a lot to take on board – going to a local neonatal class or breastfeeding group can help you to talk through skin to skin contact and baby’s first feed. Remember you will always do the best for you and your baby no matter how the birth pans out. Happy cuddling.
*Feeding is new for both you and your baby and you might not get the perfect latch right away. Don't be afraid to unlatch and try again. If your nipples become sore and cracked you can use a small amount of our HPA® Lanolin which is 100% natural and safe for baby
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