The Magic of Skin-to-Skin

I can still see the yellow isolation gowns from the NICU team lined up against the wall during my oldest daughter, Lillian’s birth. Terrified and confused, I looked at my midwife Annie who I loved so much and had built nine months of a trusting relationship with. She saw the look on my face as I stared at them.

“Don’t worry Lindsay, they are here to check the baby since she passed a bowel movement inside. Just stay calm and keep pushing.”

I wasn’t calm. I was anything BUT calm. I was twenty-two years old, it was my first baby and absolutely clueless on what was happening. I didn’t know that the impact of taking her away from me right after birth would cause both of us to feel traumatized. I didn’t know that not being able to lay her on my chest, heartbeat to heartbeat immediately after birth, would be a moment missed by both of us forever.

Lillian came into the world at 1:23 am on October 1, 2006 and before I could even see her tiny face, she was whisked away and out of the room. Shaking uncontrollably, I looked at my husband, Jason with complete panic and said “GO!” He was out in a flash, following the nurses and doctors down to the NICU with our precious new baby. My mother was in the room and by my side, calming me as best she could. She was the first to ever introduce me to the term “skin-to-skin” and also attachment parenting.

With loving eyes and motherly wisdom, she softly said, “when they bring her back, place her on your bare chest and breathe with her. Everything will be okay. You will both feel magical when you do that.” Magical?

“They took her from me, Mom! She must be so mad at me and scared! Please bring my baby back!” I cried in her arms for what seemed like hours.

My darling Lillian was kept from me for seven hours. Seven entire hours. I laid in my hospital bed, exhausted, in and out of sleep with nightmares and sweat pouring down my face. Finally, at 8:30 am that morning, the nurse wheeled her in. She handed Lillian to me and she was awake. Her blue eyes just like Jason’s, locked with mine and I felt a tingly rush. I noticed her hands were clenched and she looked stiff as if she was in fear.

I remembered my mother’s words. I began to unwrap her, pushing all the negative thoughts away, that our bond would NOT be broken forever, and placed her against my bare chest. Then I leaned into her head and breathed her in. A love that I never knew existed filled me with each inhale. I felt at peace.

The nurse smiled at me and told me whenever I was ready, she would help me with nursing her. That moment was pure bliss and I was lost in it. Feeling her warm body against my skin transformed our souls, as we began to merge for the first time outside of my womb. My husband came into the bed with us and held us all together and I felt Lillian’s tense little body begin to soften and relax. But what was most amazing was that I too began to soften and relax with  her. I felt my body stop shaking with anxiety and motherly strength filled me with joy, as I felt her body melt into mine.

The “magic” my mother spoke of began to sparkle all around us, this brand-new family of three.

This was the start to my professional career in the baby world as I was completely amazed and convinced that becoming a mother is a sacred moment in time, in which there is an opportunity to transform into a new being. The power of skin-to-skin contact still impacted us in the most profound way, even hours later. There is a saying that says, “when a baby is born, a mother is born”.

A new way of being in the world emerged for me that first moment with my baby. When I placed Lillian on my chest that very first time, I knew I would not let her separate from me as an infant again. Once I was home, I spent hours learning more about the magic of skin-to-skin contact and watched with pure amazement how it continued to heal, bond, and strengthen us. It set the stage for a lifetime of this positive effect, that could have turned out tragically had my mother not told me what to do after a difficult birth experience. The benefits of skin-to-skin contact are nothing short of magical.

The physiological connection that babies have with their mother is deep and it is Mother Nature’s way of protecting an ancient and natural bond that mother and baby get to experience together. A powerful bond that has positive outcomes for the future.

Benefits of Skin to Skin

  • Regulates the baby’s temperature and keeps glucose levels higher. Your breasts are able to stabilize its temperature when baby is placed on them, to keep the baby’s vitals steady and temperature regulated.
  • Keeps the baby’s heartbeat stable by synchronizing it with Mom’s heartbeat. A mother’s heartbeat can coordinate with her baby’s heartbeat within seconds!
  • Increases bonding. The hour after birth is called the “Sacred” or “Golden” hour and is during this hour is when mom and baby are primed to develop their chemical connection. Oxytocin or the “love hormone” is responsible for this connection.
  • Reduces Postpartum Depression. Feeling the baby on her chest, smelling the baby, kissing and snuggling, especially during the first hour rouses these intricate hormones that moms has to stimulate mother behaviors and feelings and thus can help reduce PPD symptoms of disconnect.
  • A less crying baby! Holding a baby, skin-to-skin a few hours a day can help reduce crying in an infant and keep them calm and secure. This also lowers stress levels in a mom and helps her to feel more in control.
  • Improves sleep for both baby and Mom. A baby held skin-to-skin helps them to sleep better and stay asleep longer thus allowing a Mother to rest too.
  • Happier tummy and stronger immune system for baby! Yes – skin-to-skin can help the baby’s digestive system! Contact on Mom’s chest stimulates the vagal nerve which keeps digestion strong and nutrition absorbs better for stronger immunity.
  • BREASTFEEDING! This is a big benefit of skin-to skin in that it improves the breastfeeding relationship between Mom and baby very early on. A baby placed on Mom immediately after birth who continues with skin to skin at home is more likely to breastfeed with success and for longer. This helps Mom’s supply build and stay well established. Swaddling a baby away from Mom will decrease her supply from building.

Skin-to-skin is for everyone! Dad/Partner can practice skin-to-skin too! This helps build a bond for your partner by placing baby against their chest for at least an hour a day. My husband would be seen walking around with both of our girls with no shirt on and the baby wrapped around his chest and he was able to feel it’s benefits as well.

While I did not get to enjoy the golden hour with Lillian right after her birth, the power of skin-to-skin was still immediately shown to me when she was finally handed to me, even hours later.

Therefore, no matter what happens in your birth, the benefits of skin-to-skin are prevailing and this nurturing touch should be practiced for months after.

The birth trauma with Lillian shook me to my core, however, through many months and even years of including skin-to-skin; we have healed together. Today, my approach to motherhood includes attachment parenting and teaching mothers to develop this early strong bonding that enhances nursing, sleep and calms anxiety.

Lillian is now a thriving, healthy and secure ten-year old girl and the benefits of holding her against my chest as a baby for months has farther reaches in her world. She is well mannered and adjusted to life’s many changes around her. I know now that it is because I didn’t let our birth trauma experience stop our bonding. By taking an extra step, we avoided unnecessary anxiety and found a peaceful, happy existence that she still carries with her today.

Happy Bonding!
Beautiful Births and Beyond
Lindsay Gibson/Editor