The Magic of Skin-to-Skin Contact

by Kajsa Brimdyr, PhD, Healthy Children Project

It makes sense, in this moment in history, to focus on what we are losing related to birth. My background and expertise is an anthropologist and researcher in the field of maternal and infant contact, and I have written about the negative consequences of the practice of separating mother and baby soon after birth.  The distress cry of the baby. The fear and anxiety of the mother. The pain of separation. The physiologic consequences – delayed placental expulsion, hemorrhage, low Apgars. The potential of life-long consequences from delay and missed moments of bonding. But I can’t write about that dark place right now.

So, in the same vein of posting pictures on Facebook of loved ones and favorite vistas, watching videos of cats getting dizzy, and binge watching HGTV, I would like to share the magic that keeps me going every day. The magic of skin-to-skin contact in the first hour after birth. And it is magic.

So, instead of binging on cat videos, can I talk you into watching some skin-to-skin in the first hour after birth videos?

Dr. Ann-Marie Widström, who first noticed the 9 Stages more than 30 years ago, published a new paper last year about the importance of that first hour after birth, and I was honored to be one of her co-authors.

“Strong scientific research exists about the importance of skin‐to‐skin in the first hour after birth. This unique time for both mother and infant, individually and in relation to each other, provides vital advantages to short‐ and long‐term health, regulation and bonding. However, worldwide, clinical practice lags. A deeper understanding of the implications for clinical practice, through review of the scientific research, has been integrated with enhanced understanding of the infant’s instinctive behaviour and maternal responses while in skin‐to‐skin contact.”

OK, that was a little reading, instead of viewing… so back to watching videos!

Two years ago I was working in Uganda, helping them implement skin-to-skin in the first hour after birth. You can watch the video I made for their Ministry of Health here which shows those incredible 9 stages again.

Implementation of skin-to-skin in the hospital can be a challenge. Karin Cadwell and I created an Implementation Algorithm to help hospitals figure out where they are succeeding, and where they are still facing challenges. We made a video and the articles are available here and here.

The definition of magic is “(a) having seemingly supernatural qualities or powers (b) giving a feeling of enchantment.” Every day, I feel like we learn more about the importance of that first hour after birth, and it does seem like it has supernatural powers. We can save lives, both of the mother and baby. We can seed and grow a microbiome, inviting in the best bacteria to the party. We can foster bonding and connection with vital surges of hormones. And when it happens, when we can watch the joy of the mother through that experience, see the stages of the newborn as they awaken and explore and suckle for the first time, it really is a feeling of enchantment. It’s the one that I promote, protect and support every day. I hope you will have the opportunity to share and foster it as well.