One of the things you may notice that is different about midwifery care in general, and home birth care specifically, is that it is second nature to us to encourage immediate and continuous skin-to-skin contact between the birthing person and the baby from the moment of birth. While this may seem just like a feel-good “midwifey” thing, the truth is that there are very real and important reasons why babies should be held skin-to-skin as much as possible from the start.
Unless you have been living under a rock for the last many years, you probably have heard of “Kangaroo Mother Care” or simply, “Kangaroo Care”, which is a term coined for a method which was stumbled upon by two neonatologists in Colombia in the late 1970’s, when there were not enough incubators to care for all the premature babies in their hospital. Babies whose mothers kept them skin-to-skin thrived, and were able to achieve better breastfeeding rates and early discharge from the hospital.
In our practice, we often quote physician Nils Bergman, a driving force in skin-to-skin research – Gina’s favorite Nils quote is, “The mother’s body is the baby’s natural habitat.” We believe the evidence on the importance of skin-to-skin to the development of the baby couldn’t be more clear: your baby has been growing and developing inside your body for their entire life up until the moment of birth – optimal development will continue when your baby is minimally separated from you during the critical days, weeks, and even months to follow.
You can see the merit in this in the studies linked above, comparing babies who are moved to isolation in a bassinet directly after birth, and swaddled before being returned to mother’s arms, to those who are placed immediately onto the bare skin of their mother’s chest and covered with a warm blanket. Babies in the skin-to-skin groups are better able to regulate their heart and respiration rates, have more stable blood pressure and temperature, and breastfeed more readily and longer than their counterparts. In addition to the baby benefits, the birthing parents tend to have more stable vitals when their babies are cared for skin-to-skin, and experience reduced incidence of postpartum mood disorders.
So how does this look in our practice? It is the norm if you are birthing with us that your baby will be handled gently and immediately placed in your arms to be skin-to-skin with you, and then both of you are covered with a warm towel. Our assessments of your baby’s well-being can almost always be done while your baby is lying on your chest. It goes without saying that the cord is not cut during this time. Our preference is that your bonding time with your baby is not interrupted for at least the first hour, after which we will find a natural time to get you up to use the bathroom, quickly arrange your bed so that you can snuggle back in and watch as we cut the cord according to your preference (usually you or your partner do this), and perform a gentle head-to-toe newborn exam, before returning your baby directly back into your arms to continue skin-to-skin care.
This topic is vast, and one that we could passionately expound upon for hours if you get us started, but for now, we invite you to read all about the benefits of skin-to-skin for yourself. We recommend starting by visiting this website: https://kangaroomothercare.com/ and reading everything available by Dr. Nils Bergman. After that, you have only to Google “kangaroo care” to find pages of great articles on the many benefits of skin-to-skin for all babies.
Photo credit: https://www.monetnicole.com/