The golden hour

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You’ve probably already heard about the importance of maternal-infant bonding after birth, but perhaps you haven’t heard how quickly that bonding can begin. Known as “the golden hour”, experts now believe that what you, and others around you, do in the first hour of your baby’s life can have a major impact on that bond.

During and immediately after birth, chemical changes will take place in your brain which will increase your desire to nurture. Skin-to-skin contact with your baby and letting him suckle at your breast will release these natural mothering hormones, whilst this physical closeness will help your baby adapt to his new world after nine months in your womb hearing just your voice, heartbeat and breathing. Dad can be involved too, by gently placing his hands on the baby, talking quietly, making eye contact and holding the baby after the first breastfeed.

Breastfeeding within the first hour after birth offers many benefits to both you and your baby. It will help your uterus to contract, shrink and stop bleeding. It has also been shown to improve infant survival rates, particularly in cases of traumatic or premature births, by stabilising a baby’s heart rhythm, body temperature and breathing.

Then there is the bacteriological argument for immediate skin-to-skin contact. When your baby is born, he is germ-free; however, an hour later he will be covered in millions of germs. Your germs are already familiar because you share the same antibodies, so the safest place for your baby to be is with you. Add to this the consumption of your colostrum, which contains protective white cells to destroy disease-causing bacteria and helps to establish healthy gut flora, and I think it’s clear that the hour following birth can have lifelong benefits. 

Hospital help

The latest research now calls into question the procedures followed by hospitals during the golden hour. Many hospitals still focus first on the medical aspects of a newborn’s health, with nature and nurture coming second. The newborn is often examined, given vaccinations and cleaned up before being handed over to the parents. But the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has created a new policy for how newborns should be cared for in the first hour after birth, and is working with world-wide movement The Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative (created by the World Health Organization) to help to implement these changes. 

Their guidelines state that a healthy baby should be placed immediately onto the mother’s abdomen or chest and remain in skin-to-skin contact until after the first feed. The AAP believes that medical staff should carry out the initial physical assessment while the baby remains on the mother’s chest, and that weighing, measuring, bathing and any injections or blood tests should wait until after the first feed.

Not all births go to plan, however, and some babies will need medical help immediately after birth. As soon as they are stable, skin-to-skin contact should be encouraged to help the baby thrive. And if you have a planned or emergency C-section, there are still ways for you to have skin-to-skin contact. Ask the midwife or nurse to bring your baby over and lay him on your chest while the obstetrician stitches you up. Your partner can sit with you and put his hands on the baby, too.

If you want to make the most of the benefits of the golden hour, my advice is to find out what your hospital’s routine procedures are for the hour after birth. If possible, make sure your obstetrician knows about your preferences in advance, and include them in your birth plan. 

Liz Purnell-Webb runs A Mother’s Touch pregnancy and childbirth specialists. Liz is a qualified childbirth educator, birth coach/doula and placenta encapsulation specialist. Learn more at www.amotherstouch.com.hk.

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