The Correlation Between Early Skin-to-Skin Contact & Breast/Chestfeeding

By: Jennifer Cole | Newborn Procedures | June 27, 2021

The evidence is clear: the physiological condition that promotes successful breastfeeding is early skin-to skin-contact between baby and birthing parent. What happens during the first hour of life is critical for a baby’s future growth and development. In fact, “The benefits of skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth for stable birthing parents and babies is so well documented, it is recommended by all major organizations responsible for the well-being of newly born infants, including The World Health Organization (WHO), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine (ABM), and the Neonatal Resuscitation Program (NRP).”

As miraculous as the changes are that occur to the birthing body during pregnancy, they continue throughout labor and through the minutes and hours after birth. The continued release of the hormone oxytocin—the same “love” hormone responsible for the pregnancy and keeping labor going—causes changes in the birthing person’s brain chemistry that increases their desire to nurture. 

The Science Behind the Golden Hour

When baby is laid skin-to-skin across their parent’s chest and suckles at the breast/chest, it promotes a continuous release of oxytocin, which keeps the bonding process between parent and child in full swing. It also causes the uterus to contract and stop bleeding. When skin-to-skin contact, also known as “kangaroo care”, is initiated immediately postpartum, and continues as much as possible for the first several days postpartum, the birthing parent is more likely to breast/chestfeed longer.

Moreover, research has shown that nursing within the first hour of life improves infant survival rates. A 2006 study published in the journal Pediatrics suggested that “41 percent of newborns that die in the first month of life could have been saved if breastfed in the first hour of life.” 

The benefits of breast/chestfeeding to both parent and baby are well-established. Babies who breast/chestfeed have lower rates of ear infections, asthma, diabetes, childhood leukemia, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Birthing parents who nurse their babies have lower rates of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and diabetes.”

So Why Isn’t It More Common?

Unfortunately, many hospitals around the country could be doing a better job promoting this practice and understanding the benefits of uninterrupted skin-to-skin between parent and child. Currently, it’s not uncommon for care providers to interrupt the bonding time with non-urgent procedures that can wait.

Many hospitals still routinely take a baby from its parent to administer the Vitamin K shot, to weigh and measure them, and to take the baby’s temperature or check their heart rate. A 2019 study on the subject concluded, “Health services must strategically address the institutional processes which delay and/or interrupt skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding in birth suite and operating theatre settings.”  

Make Sure to Add it to Your Birth Preferences!

With evidence on your side, you can make your preference for uninterrupted skin-to-skin known to your care providers with confidence. In the best-case scenario, your care providers will already be implementing these procedures to some degree so they won’t have to make too many adjustments to their current protocol to ensure that bonding time with your baby remains uninterrupted. 

You can always ask about it prior to arriving at the hospital so that you have an understanding of what the current procedures are and how far off they are from the World Health Organization’s recommendations. If you determine that the hospital where you plan to give birth is not up to date on the evidence and still routinely separates parents from their babies, you may want to reconsider your choice.

Remember, You Have Evidence On Your Side

The benefit and significance of uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact between birthing parent and child for at least the first hour immediately postpartum is scientifically documented. If you meet any resistance from your care team, you can cite the World Health Organization’s recommendations on early skin-to-skin contact between parent and baby. 

Just be advised that their recommendations pertain to situations where baby is stable in the first hour of life. If your baby is having any difficulty transitioning from womb to world perhaps they swallowed meconium right before they were born then it may be necessary for the pediatric team to move them over to the baby warmer and assist them with getting their lungs cleared and respiratory function stabilized.

There is no hurry for procedures like administering the vitamin K shot, eye ointment, and weighing and measuring the baby to take place in the first 1-2 hours postpartum. In order to make sure this happens, it’s a matter of communicating with your care provider team effectively so they understand your commitment to the golden hour and can adjust how and when they carry out the newborn procedures accordingly. 

To learn more about how to protect your important skin-to-skin bonding time, click here to take our Newborn Procedures course.



About the author:
Jennifer Cole CD(DONA) DONA Certified Birth Doula and Hypnobabies Certified HypnoDoula supporting families throughout San Diego County.


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