The Importance of Uninterrupted Skin-to Skin Contact Immediately After Birth
How we are treated immediately after we are born can have life long affects. More and more people are starting to see evidence that immediate skin to skin contact between newborns and their mothers (when infants are healthy and at term) has a huge impact on the babys development and emotional well-being.
I started to read the article by Raylene Phillips (MD, IBCLC, FAAP), ''Uninterupted Skin-to-Skin Contact Immediatley After Birth'' and I was completely blown away. My eyes were literally glued to the screen for the duration of the lengthy article and I couldn't help but share my findings!
The information may be triggering to some, since the article expresses that how we are treated immediately after birth and in early life can have life-long effects, and can contribute to whether or not a child experiences attachment issues, lack of peer interest and even aggressive behaviors. Luckily, nature has made it possible for the attachments and bonding that are necessary for life to occur at any point during a person’s lifetime. The younger a person is when they become aware of the effects of their early trauma the easier it will be for them to heal. With the right support and healing techniques, humans are capable of healing from most traumas.
Also, this article uses the gendered term ''mother'' to refer to the parent who carried the child during pregnancy.
The following is my summary, you can read the full article by clicking on the link ^
''The power of first impressions is well known. None may be more significant than the first experiences of a newborn baby exiting mother's womb. Our first impression of life outside the womb, the welcome reception we receive immediately after birth, may color our perceptions of life as difficult or easy, hostile or safe, painful or comforting, frightening or reassuring, cold and lonely or warm and welcoming.''
Photo by Alex Hockett
To start with, some of the benefits in the newborn when given immediate skin to skin contact with their mother include easier respiration, temperature regulation, glucose stability and an easier emotional transition. Mothers also experience benefits, including increased maternal instincts/behaviors, more confidence in caring for their newborns, and they statistically breastfeed for longer periods of time. Immediate skin to skin contact supports optimal development and healthy attachment, and gives baby’s an advantage with breastfeeding.
The article states that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and should be allowed to proceed unless there is a medical emergency.
The article compares a baby being separated from their mother with a person going ‘’cold turkey’’ from a heroin addiction, experiencing physical and physiological withdrawal. From the baby’s perspective, separation is life threatening, and provokes loud cries and intense physical activity in protest to try to get their mothers attention. It has been found that newborns that have been separated from their mothers experience 10 times the number of cries at 40 times the duration in comparison with babies who have skin to skin.
Frantic crying can cause the newborn serious damage, such as impaired lung function, increased intra-cranial pressure, increased stress hormones and jeopardizes the closure of the foramen ovale, the vein allows blood to bypass the lungs of a fetus when the placenta is fulfilling the need for oxygen.
If separation continues, the baby will experience a biphastic response, going from ‘’protesting’’ to ‘’despair’’, which usually results in the baby becoming quiet and still, also referred to as ‘’giving up’’.
This is also an instinctive move to ward off predators. The baby’s temperature drops, heart rate decreases and metabolism slows down to prolong survival. Babies who are separated from their mothers and kept in nurseries are at risk of hypothermia, bradycardia and hypoglycemia.
The article indicates that babies who experience short term separation and ‘’protest’’ is not thought to be harmful to cognitive function, but repetitive and prolonged separation resulting in newborn ‘’despair’’’ has shown to have lifelong effects.
It seems an understatement to say that birth is an incredible time in a person’s life, and although most adults have no conscious memory of birth or life in the womb, Phillips states that most of us have an unconscious memory that could be recalled during hypnosis in adulthood. Some young children remember events and feelings about their birth, although they were not told any of these details prior.This is important information because how a baby is treated during their birth and early life outside the womb can affect them for the rest of their lives.
The womb is the fetuses’ natural habitat, and after birth, the mother’s body and breasts become the baby’s natural habitat; hearing her voice, her heartbeat and providing nutrients, warmth and protection. A mother’s chest will regulate her baby’s temperature, and if a mother has twins, each breast will warm or cool each baby appropriately.
Nature has provided biochemical activators that stimulate our reward response and increase maternal care-giving urges. Skin to skin also provides a spike in oxytocin, the ‘’love hormone’’.
Many studies have shown that as little as 15 minutes of skin to skin contact and brief times of feeding with their newborns resulted in more confidence in being a mother than those who were completely separated from their babies, and that they were likely to breastfeed their babies twice as long as separated mothers.
Follow up appointments at 3 months and one year showed that mothers and babies who were able to have skin to skin contact were more affectionate and the infants demonstrated stronger speaking behaviors.
Studies done on monkeys, pigs and mare’s have shown similar long term effects when separated from their mothers, showing the same biphastic responses of ‘’protest’’ and ‘’despair’’. Foals that experienced separation from their mothers were more attached to their mothers and showed less interest in their peers, with more aggression towards other foals.
Harry Harlow’s research on monkeys shows that only monkeys who were raised with both touch and motion had normal brain development, highlighting the importance of maternal holding and carrying throughout infancy.
Dr. Prescott explored the research of anthropologists on 49 different primitive cultures, and with this was able to predict whether the culture would be peaceful versus violent.
In this study, cultures that did not carry their infants in their first year were more violent, and cultures that did carry their infants were more peaceful.
He also identified that longer breastfeeding periods (2 and a half + years) resulted in a low or absent suicide rate in 26 of the cultures. He believes that there is a sensitive period when infant brains are developing and pleasurable touch and movements are needed in order to protect the infant from violence and depression.
Developmental benefits from mother-infant bonding also help the infant self-regulate and come to homeostasis, allowing them to be better equipped to calm themselves. Early experiences can shape and design brains based on their early environments. A traumatic or hostile environment can cause a brain to become cautious and defensive whereas a supportive environment can encourage a sense of safety and security.
However, the article states that if after the birth all does not go as planned; the effects are not all irreversible.
Nature has made it possible for the attachments and bonding that are necessary for life to occur at any point during a person’s lifetime. With the right support and healing techniques, humans are capable of healing from most traumas.
Dr. Ann-Marie Windstorm observed and published 9 instinctive behaviors from infants who were allowed to adjust to life outside the womb peacefully and without interruptions, with skin to skin contact with their mothers.
The instinctive stages include: 1) the birth cry 2) relaxation 3) awakening 4) activity 5) resting 6) crawling 7) familiarization 8) suckling and 9) sleeping.
This provides guidelines and reassurance for medical staff to know when to not interfere. Many experts are working towards skin to skin being the norm in hospitals for vaginal and cesarean births, unless there is a medical emergency.
Skin to skin immediately after a cesarean birth helps mothers stabilize, and has been documented by WHO (World Health Organization), AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics), ABM (Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine) and NRP (Neonatal Resuscitation Program).
The article also recommends not using routine bulb-sectioning as it disturbs the newborn. They recommend that routine procedures and checks for infants should be done after the mother and infant are allowed their first feed, as self-directed by the infant.
‘’The bottom line is, whatever supports mother-infant attachment, supports infant brain development!’’ -Raylene Phillips