Skin to Skin
Posted in childbirth, breastfeeding, mothering, postpartum Posted on September 21, 2018
Skin to Skin by Lenore Kilmartin
It surprised me to see the intensity of labour my birth client was experiencing. She seemed to have skipped early labour altogether and moved quickly into the active phase. Her young body was responding beautifully to contractions. She was 19 years old and this was her first baby.
Not a planned baby. An "uh-oh, I can't make up my mind if I'll keep it" baby. One day no, the next day maybe, then back to no.
Her mother had arranged for me to be present as her daughter laboured and gave birth. Social workers were waiting on the sidelines as adoption had been discussed.
Her baby was born quickly and easily. A beautiful little boy. Very little. Although full-term, he was barely 6 lbs. As he was placed on her chest, I wondered how she would respond. She had been so indifferent during her pregnancy.
But within a short time she was crooning sweet words of welcome to him, stroking his body, laughing at his scrunched up face. The power of oxytocin, the bonding hormone, was at work. She was hormonally primed to connect with her newborn. Her intuitive instincts were at work as she held her baby close.
I looked around the room and saw that everyone present was surprised by her reaction based on her previous lack of interest.
There was initial concern regarding the baby's blood sugar levels. He was small for a baby born several days past his due date. I knew skin-to-skin with his mother would be best for him, as it is for all babies, both premature and full-term. Colostrum, baby's first breastmilk, would be important for stabilizing his blood sugar.
I wondered what might happen when this was suggested...would she want to keep him skin-to-skin?
I shouldn't have worried. Not only was a tiny baby boy born that day but so was his mother .
Her little boy latched onto her breast with enthusiasm. In the first few days following his birth, she kept him skin-to-skin, tucked safely between her breasts, naked except for his diaper. He was content and so was she. There was no doubt in my mind, as I watched them get to know one another, that this baby was hers to keep. He went from possibly wanted to definitely wanted within the first few hours of his life.
His blood sugar remained stable. He did not develop jaundice. His temperature, heart rate and breathing were all steady. After all, he was in his natural habitat, skin-to-skin with his mother, not swaddled in a blanket and placed under a warmer, away from her arms.
He could smell her and taste her. He could feel her breath and her heartbeat. He could hear her voice. He could get to know her touch and her face. He could colonize the bacteria on her skin helping set his immune system. He could breastfeed whenever he cued giving him plenty of the essential first-milk, colostrum, while ensuring her mature milk would come in quickly. He barely cried as he was without stress. What a perfect start for them both.
Best of all, she could learn about him too. Minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day they discovered one another.
As I left the hospital late in the evening, I was overcome by emotion thinking of how content the new mother and baby were together, skin-to-skin. Once again, as often occurs on the late night walk back to my car after attending a birth, I pondered the transformation a mother experiences as she falls in love with her newborn. It isn't always immediate but with uninterrupted skin-to-skin, both in the days following birth and in the first few weeks of baby's life, chances are good that the two will bond and connect and when they do, the feelings both experience will be intense.
For the mother, those feelings will be powerfully life-changing and for the baby, powerfully life-welcoming.