First impressions count. The first moments of meeting someone or experiencing something new sets the stage for everything else from that point.
Through skin-to-skin contact in the moments after delivery, newborns and new mothers can establish a bond that helps the baby cope and thrive in its life outside of the protective womb.
Years ago, the moments after a birth were frantic. The baby was whisked away by a nurse to be weighed, bathed, measured, and prints were obtained of tiny fingers and toes. All of this happened while under a bright light and in a cold room, the opposite of the warm, dark and quiet atmosphere the baby was in only moments before. Once these tasks are completed, the baby was swaddled then given back to the mother. Contact was mostly limited to the hands or face of the baby.
After holding the baby for a while, it was taken to the nursery to be cared by a staff of nurses while mom was taken to a room for rest and recuperation. The baby was brought to the mother’s room for visits, but essentially cared for by the nursing staff. It was thought this allowed both mother and baby to recover, but essentially, it suppressed the opportunity for bonding.
If the mother chose to breastfeed, it was attempted hours after birth, but the baby had either already been introduced to a bottle, or the natural instinct for breastfeeding that is so strong immediately after birth, was diminished.
Thankfully, things have changed. Science and human instinct have shown the first few hours after birth are precious and filled with opportunities for bonding between mother and baby.
"The time immediately after birth is special,” explains Christa O’Neal, RN, Maternal Child Educator with West Calcasieu Cameron Hospital. "We have implemented techniques in our maternal child department to enhance and encourage bonding between mom, dad, and baby.”
One of these techniques is skin-to-skin contact as soon after delivery as possible. The baby is placed directly on the mother’s chest, skin touching. Although it might seem insignificant, many physiological benefits occur thanks to this intuitive action, including stabilizing the newborn’s respiration and oxygen levels, beneficially increasing the baby’s glucose level, and warming the infant. In both the mother and baby, stress hormones are reduced, blood pressure is regulated, and bonding occurs.
The benefits of skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth is accepted and recommended by many leading health organizations, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, World Health Organization, the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
After a time of skin-to-skin contact allowing babies to peacefully adjust to life outside the womb, babies will naturally begin to initiate breastfeeding. "This is often a surprise to women who delivered years ago and tried to breastfeed hours later. When that first instinct wasn’t encouraged, breastfeeding could be challenging. By encouraging breastfeeding soon after birth, it complements the natural order of the birthing process,” explains O’Neal.
At WCCH, skin-to-skin contact begins immediately after birth. ID bands and footprints are taken with the infant on the mother’s chest, and weight is taken when the mother requests. "We take care of the other procedures later, once the baby has had time with the mother. Our goal is uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact for at least one hour or until the first breastfeeding is completed,” she says.
Special training was initiated and completed so that the team of caregivers in the Sallye J. Toniette, MD Women’s Center at WCCH follows the protocol of promoting bonding within the first hours after delivery.
"Every delivery is unique. We implement these techniques with all deliveries, for both natural and cesarean births. The benefits have been amazing. We’re seeing a strong bond between mothers and their babies, breastfeeding is much more successful, and both the mothers’ and baby’s health and vital signs improve overall. Sometimes we have to step back and let nature occur as intended,” O’Neal says. "We’re right there, available for any questions the mother or family may have. We encourage this initial bonding time because we know how valuable it is.”
The Louisiana Department of Health recently honored West Calcasieu Cameron Hospital with The Gift designation for these hospital practices that enhance the mother/baby experience and promote breastfeeding. Policy development, education of staff, patient education, and provision of discharge resources for breastfeeding mothers are key components of the program.
The Gift is an evidence-based designation program for Louisiana birthing facilities designed to increase breastfeeding rates and hospital success by improving the quality of maternity services and enhancing patient-centered care.
"Granted, there are situations where we cannot implement as much skin-to-skin contact as we’d like,” explains Scott Bergstedt, MD, OB/GYN with OBG-1 of West Calcasieu Cameron Hospital. "If the stability of the mother or baby is in question, that is the top priority. Aside from that, we’ll do all we can to provide the opportunity for bonding and breastfeeding as soon after birth as possible.”
Providing the opportunity for skin-to-skin contact is one of the best ways for babies to adjust to life outside of the womb, and provides important short-term and long-term benefits for both mother and baby. "We’re pleased to enhance this special time and know that it’s one of the best ways to encourage a healthy, loving start for these families,” says Dr. Bergstedt.
For more information about The Gift designation, visit www.thegiftla.org or www.wcch.com.