This post was written by Motif Medical's Compression Director Rebekah Mustaleski, Certified Professional Midwife and expert in evidence-based maternity care.
The first hour immediately after your baby is born is called “The Golden Hour.” This time has been given this distinguished name because of the immense benefits that come when the mother-baby dyad are allowed to spend this time having uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact. Studies continually show that placing baby directly on the mother’s chest during this time promotes a smooth transition to postpartum life for both mom and baby.
What Does an Uninterrupted “Golden Hour” Look Like?
In order to honor the golden hour, the new baby should be placed on the mother’s chest with no clothes or towels in between them. This skin-to-skin contact is essential to help baby regulate their body systems and initiate the rooting reflex that helps them start breastfeeding. All newborn assessments, measurements, and medications should be done with the newborn baby remaining on the parent’s chest.
The umbilical cord should not be cut or clamped to allow for delayed cord clamping. In the event of a cesarean delivery or if the birthing parent is unable to have baby on their chest for medical reasons, the baby can be placed skin-to-skin with the dad or other family member and still receive many of the same benefits that come during the golden hour.
What Are the Benefits of the Golden Hour?
1.Promotes Healthy Neonatal Transition
When a new baby receives immediate skin-to-skin contact after birth, it helps their body transition to life outside the womb. Term babies who are held on their parent’s chest are better able to stabilize their respirations, heart rate, body temperature, and blood sugar levels. When babies are born prematurely or if they have medical reasons to be separated from their parents immediately after birth, they can still experience those same benefits of skin-to-skin connection, even outside of the golden hour.
2. Facilitates Normal Maternal Transition to Postpartum
When the healthcare provider places the newborn baby skin-to-skin on the mother’s chest, it helps the birthing parent’s body begin the hormonal transition from pregnancy to postpartum. The emotional bonding and the initiation of breastfeeding cause the body to release oxytocin, which causes the uterus to contract and release the placenta or if it has already been delivered, to slow the postpartum bleeding. Both of these actions help to reduce the incidence of postpartum hemorrhage when skin-to-skin is utilized during the golden hour.
3. Improves Breastfeeding Success (WHO)
Honoring the golden hour by placing the newborn baby skin-to-skin with their mother shortens the time it takes for the baby to have their first successful latch and increases breastfeeding duration. When the baby is on their mother’s chest it helps activate their neonatal feeding reflexes and instincts and also facilitates the breast crawl, where the baby will move themselves toward the breast to be able to feed.
This first feeding after birth is a critical time for baby to learn where their food comes from now, correct suckling habits, and it works to establish an adequate milk supply. The World Health Organization’s current recommendation is for babies to have their first breastfeeding session within the first hour of life, which is another perfect reason to keep baby skin-to-skin during that time!
4. Reduces Stress for Baby
Birth is a time of major changes for your baby. They have left the only world they ever knew and have made the transition to a whole new place. Whether your baby was born vaginally or via cesarean section, the only thing that will be familiar to your baby is you. Babies who are with their parent cry less and have lower levels of stress hormones.
5. Improves Bonding for Baby + Parents
Getting to spend the first hour snuggled up with your baby increases the bonding that happens between the two of you. Oxytocin levels increase in both the parent and the baby when you are skin-to-skin during the golden hour. Oxytocin in known as “the love hormone” and when we give it the opportunity to flow freely the first time you and baby meet, it promotes long-term attachment between the two of you.
The golden hour is a powerful time for both the mother and baby. Allowing them to stay skin-to-skin during this transformational time helps to facilitate a smooth transition to the postpartum for both. If you are planning to deliver at a baby-friendly hospital or birth center, your healthcare team will help facilitate the golden hour for you. If you are planning a c-section delivery, talk to your doctor to find out what your options are after the birth. In many situations, your doula or family member can help you and baby spend quality time together, even while you’re in the operating room.
Raylene Phillips (2013). The Sacred Hour: Uninterrupted Skin-to-Skin Contact Immediately After Birth. Newborn and Infant Nursing Reviews, Vol 13, Issue 2. ISSN 1527-3369. https://doi.org/10.1053/j.nainr.2013.04.001
Jefferies, A. L., & Canadian Paediatric Society, Fetus and Newborn Committee (2012). Kangaroo care for the preterm infant and family. Paediatrics & child health, 17(3), 141–146. https://doi.org/10.1093/pch/17.3.141
Karimi, F. Z., Heidarian Miri, H., Salehian, M., Khadivzadeh, T., & Bakhshi, M. (2019). The Effect of Mother-Infant Skin to Skin Contact after Birth on Third Stage of Labor: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Iranian journal of public health, 48(4), 612–620. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6500522/
Karimi, F. Z., Miri, H. H., Khadivzadeh, T., & Maleki-Saghooni, N. (2020). The effect of mother-infant skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth on exclusive breastfeeding: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of the Turkish German Gynecological Association, 21(1), 46–56. https://doi.org/10.4274/jtgga.galenos.2019.2018.0138
Bigelow Ann E., Power M. (2020). Mother–Infant Skin-to-Skin Contact: Short‐ and Long-Term Effects for Mothers and Their Children Born Full-Term. Frontiers in Psychology 11. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01921