A Father’s Day Gift – Skin to Skin from Birth: A Guide
I once took a workshop with the amazing Gena Kirby about the natural mammalian instincts that occur during the birth of a child. Given the freedom and absence of intervention, a woman most often will stand, squat or kneel to give birth to her baby. She will gently guide her baby’s entry into the world and slowly lower her baby to the ground. She will take her time to catch her breath, reconnect with her surroundings and those with her, and then lastly will acknowledge her baby.
We have done an amazing job in our community of educating, encouraging and providing the opportunity for women to do skin to skin with their babies right after birth, but what if a woman isn’t ready to receive her baby? It’s so much more common than we acknowledge. And unfortunately, without knowing this, women often feel like there is something wrong with them if they don’t have that ecstatic moment of utter connection to their little being right away. Giving women time to absorb their reality and giving partners the opportunity to be a part of the beginning of a brand new life is a win-win for all.
So the baby is just born and automatically the midwife or doctor will bring the baby up onto the mother’s belly (except in special circumstances). The umbilical cord continues to pulsate (pumping red blood cells and other great stuff into baby) and everyone oohs and aahs. Maybe everything seems frantic, maybe mom’s eyes are still closed and she is catching her breath, maybe the parents have no idea what to do next. It’s all good. Now imagine it’s you. Stay where you are and listen to what you and your body need right now. Maybe it’s connection, maybe it’s to be left alone. Maybe both your partner and the baby need connection - and you don’t have it in you right now to provide that. There’s many great reasons why that’s okay to let your partner do the parenting right now. Your doula will know that now is the time for your baby to be skin to skin with dad or partner but it may be a great idea for your birthing team (including your partner) to know that you are okay with your partner having that privilege to start.
Skin to skin means having your baby naked (not wrapped in a blanket) and placed directly skin to skin on either your chest or your partner’s chest immediately after birth, for as long as possible.
So dads and partners, don’t worry about hairy chests, thin chests or big chests. The baby is happier just having its temperature more stable, its heart and breathing rates more stable, and hearing the familiar thump-thump of a heart beat. Skin to skin with both parents allows the baby to be colonized to the parents’ bacteria which strengthens its immune system. This, plus breastfeeding, are thought to be important in the prevention of diseases. Some other great facts about skin to skin include:
- Even babies on oxygen can be cared for skin to skin. This helps reduce their need for oxygen, and supports good breathing.
- The baby is more likely to latch on well to the breast.
- The baby is less likely to cry.
- The baby is more likely to breastfeed exclusively longer
And for those who give birth by caesarean, your partner will be invaluable to you and your baby in the operating room. Although mothers are sometimes now given the opportunity to provide this kind of skin to skin support to their babies on the table, it’s still an unfortunate rarity. So dads and partners, take this opportunity to get a stable chair to sit in and place the baby right skin to skin in the operating room. Dads and partners can prep for the baby’s caesarean birth by wearing a button down shirt and putting the hospital gown on with the ties in the front.
Interestingly enough, studies also show that a father’s involvement from birth leads to
- fewer behavioural problems
- higher educational achievement
- higher self esteem and satisfaction
- More satisfying sexual relationships
- Lower criminality and substance abuse
- Better friendships with better adjusted children
So here's the "how to do it" part:
1. Place your naked baby’s chest directly on your naked chest in a vertical position. Don’t worry about hairiness – it’s soft and better than stubble.
2. Allow your baby to turn its face to one side or the other, keeping its chin slightly lifted and airway open.
3. Allow your baby to stay in this position as long as it would like (preferably for at least the first 1000 minutes). Newborn procedures like checking temperature, heart rate, breathing, giving the Vitamin K injection and others can be done while skin to skin. At some point you may want to weigh the baby, but that can wait until after the baby has breastfed and then the baby can go back onto one of the parents’ skin again.