Skin to skin. A term thrown around as liberally as bio oil prior to giving birth. Just like Ronseal – it does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s just a cuddle with your newborn baby without clothes on…. Right? NO!
I was told about the importance of skin to skin prior to my babies. Or I was told, it’s important for bonding. But that was it. I have since discovered it is so much more than that. Way more. So I wish to explain the science behind the skin-y cuddle for all those shitting-themselves-because-they’re-actually-having-a-baby. *Sniggers*
Just like a baby kangeroo, born with no legs but the ability to climb up it’s mother’s fur, sniffing it’s way to the pouch of milky heaven, defying gravity, a human baby has amazing natural instincts too…. but is born with legs. Usually. And doesn’t have to climb up fur (although if you’d seen the state of my lady garden prior to giving birth; I hadn’t seen it since week 22 and trying to get my husband to attack it with his beard trimmer was just too traumatic for all involved… but I’ll save that for another day).
There are nine natural stages that a baby goes through after birth, usually taking about an hour, which lead up to the behaviour of boobing. Boobing is part of this process, however, regardless of how you are going to feed your baby long term, the skin to skin part IS the best start to life. All will be explained in an informative manner, with as much peppering of interesting facts as possible.
Textbook Skin to Skin
Baby is born and let’s out it’s first cry. It is then placed on mum’s chest – tummy to mummy. Interesting fact #1 – the chest is a naturally warmer part of the body with the purpose of helping regulate the baby’s temperature by up to two degrees. IF #2 – the baby can also feel and hear mum’s heart beat which helps regulate the baby’s breathing by releasing calming hormones in the baby’s brain. This is the second stage – relaxation.
Then baby starts to wriggle and awaken. Stage three. Baby will start to open it’s eyes, move it’s mouth and bob it’s head and shoulders about. This leads into the next stage of further activity and movement and what looks like rooting, mouthing it’s hand and rubbing it’s head on your skin.
We’re now onto stage five. Rest. I suppose bobbing about a bit is quite exhausting for a newborn. There may be several rest periods after activity. Every few minutes or so….a bit like me.
Stage six. Crawling. Crawling? I know we all think our babies are advanced but surely not minutes old? IF #3 – Babies are in fact born with a stepping reflex which enables them to push their way up towards the boob. They are also able to push and direct themselves with their arms. IF #4 – This can also be a feeding cue – babies that are lying on their backs waving their arms/wrists in a circular motion are using their crawling reflex to notify hunger.
Just a little side note – this is something quite common I see when babies are struggling with boobing. Babies being held in the cradle hold sometimes look like they’re fighting and struggling at the head end, but actually if you look at their feet, you’ll see them kicking about like they’re trying to get a foothold. They are. Support their feet either with your hand, the side of a chair/sofa or position them up your body, tummy to mummy, so their feet are in your lap. IF # 5 – This is also why swaddling a baby is not always recommended as baby may be trying to communicate hunger and holding in the arms and legs means they lose the ability to do this. Sorry. I digress as usual.
Baby now starts to familiarise itself with mum’s anatomy by having a little taste, rubbing it’s head to try and find the nip and rubbing with it’s fists. IF # 6 – by doing this the baby leaves a trail of scent from the amniotic fluid which helps the baby locate the booby feeding receptacle when it wants to suckle again. It also erects the nipplet making it easier to find.
Stage eight – suckling. After what can look like furious head bobbing and a bit of boob punching, the baby can latch itself with very little assistance (apart from a bit of gentle directional guidance). Mum should remain lying down and relaxed (not sitting bolt upright like I did – see previous blog on my own
stupidity innocent ignorance). Baby may not be on for long as only takes about a teaspoon amount at each feed during these early days.
And finally, sleep. The best stage.
Not so textbook skin to skin:
There may be certain circumstances which may mean that you cannot achieve textbook skin to skin, such as the baby burst out like superman and left you with one hole instead of two. This will require a bit of surgical magic to make sure your innards don’t fall out so whilst you’re being put back together, Dad can part take in skin to skin to help regulate baby’s heart rate and temperature.
Skin to skin is still possible if the baby has decided (or you have elected) to come out the sunroof. Baby can be laid across your chest and you can request to have the surgical screen set up slightly lower to allow better skin to skin when baby is born whilst you’re being sewn back up.
Other things that may scupper nature’s way are nature’s glitches such as tongue ties. Baby may find it difficult to latch on and stay on, get a little fussy and frustrated. Health professionals may rule out a tongue tie by the fact the baby can poke their tongue forward, however, this is not always accurate. By gently rolling the bottom lip down, the baby automatically lifts their tongue up. If you can see something that looks like this, then it may be a tongue tie and feeding might be difficult until it’s snipped. All VERY easily sorted. Promise. And some babies learn to feed regardless.
Prem babies are not always given the opportunity for skin to skin due to difficulties they may be having depending on their prematurity. Kangaroo care can be implemented as soon as the medical staff allow and has a profound effect on the baby’s recovery.
Other nibblets of information: Skin to skin colonises the baby with your natural bacteria which helps kick start the immune system.
Dr Nils Bergman, an MD, researcher, Public Health Physician and doctorate in pharmocology with a special interest in skin to skin and kangeroo care for prem babies (in short, he knows his beans), noticed that newborn foals that are taken from the mums to be cleaned and rubbed down before being encouraged to stand in the fields, found it far more difficult to form relationships with other horses one year on without showing aggression and were often loners. His research has led him to show that a similar thing happens in human babies if babies are not put into direct contact with a primary care giver sometime after birth due to the neurological pathways going into survival mode as opposed to relaxation mode. You can view his interesting collection of videos on youtube. And for those mums that had poorly babies whisked away from them at birth, don’t worry, close mother contact and kangaroo care helps rewire the relaxation pathways and disable the survival mode hours, days, weeks or months after birth.
It is your right to have undisturbed skin to skin for at least an hour so if baby is healthy and there are no concerns, weighing the baby and checking the baby can wait and should wait until your baby has been allowed to go through all it’s little stages of natural behaviour. Overzealous hospital staff can get gently told by the husbands/partners to bugger off for a while longer.
See, I told you it’s so much more than just a clothe-less cuddle. Plus, quite frankly, it just simply feels frickin’ amazing.