Inside the womb, touch is the first sense to develop at around 8 weeks of gestation. As your pregnancy progresses, the baby’s body develops the network of nerves that make up the sense of touch enabling your baby to feel. By 32 weeks of pregnancy, nearly every part of the baby’s body can feel all sorts of things in it's environment such as different temperatures, pressure and pain and by the time time of birth, touch is the most finely tuned of all the senses. The sense of smell, the sound of the Mother and the taste of the amniotic fluid are by now familiar to the baby in utero and these help our newborn babies to feel a sense of safety outside of the womb. We often hear about having skin-to-skin contact with our babies immediately after birth during our antenatal education and the science behind why is fascinating.
Research scientists such as Dr Nils Bergman state that babies who are put skin-to-skin immediately after birth are warmer by one degree, have a higher blood sugar, are breathing better and, best of all, they are awake and aware of their surroundings. They open their eyes and connect with their mother. His recommendation, wherever possible, is to have the baby stay with its mother immediately from birth, resting skin-to-skin. He notes that the mother’s skin in the breast area is different than in other areas of the body, two degrees warmer than the rest of the body, and naturally designed as a place for baby to be after birth.
Your baby has been listening to your heartbeat since the beginning and that familiar sounds will be music to their ears as they acclimatise to life outside of the womb.
Where extreme prematurity or health/surgery to baby or mother prevent immediate skin-to-skin contact, Dr. Bergman and his team have found that you can start again, even after weeks of separation, to build the skin-to-skin bond between parent and infant. In a healthy term birth, there is no reason why immediate skin-to-skin cannot be performed, regardless of the delivery method. Checks and test for the newborn can still be done in skin-to-skin contact.
Unicef Baby Friendly initiative state that skin-to-skin contact is important for the following reasons having assessed the growing body of evidence of the benefits for both Mother and Baby:
* Calms and relaxes both mother and baby
* Regulates the baby’s heart rate and breathing, helping them to better adapt to life outside the womb
*Stimulates digestion and an interest in feeding
*Enables colonisation of the baby’s skin with the mother’s friendly bacteria, thus providing protection against infection
*Stimulates the release of hormones to support breastfeeding and mothering.
Plus there are additional benefits for babies in the neonatal unit.
Dr Nils Bergman highlights the importance of zero separation and his research goes on to suggest that the optimum period for skin-to-skin with either parent is 6 hours. Fathers/partners and babies can benefit from skin to skin whilst Mum gets checked and settled if she wishes, keeping baby in close contact and they can continue to enjoy precious skin to skin time with their baby as they .
Skin-to-skin contact is not just about birth. So many of the benefits will continue as your baby grows through nurturing touch and skin-to-skin contact. An ideal way is to massage your baby. As Dr. Bergman says, you can start again even after weeks of separation, infant massage is often used as a tool to help adoptive or foster parents for example to build bonds with their babies through nurturing touch and connection.
So cuddle those babies! Is skin-to-skin on your birth plan?
Photo Credit: @SadieWildPhotography