The baby is happier, the baby’s temperature is more stable and more normal, the
baby’s heart and breathing rates are more stable and more normal, and the baby’s
blood sugar is more elevated. Not only that, skin to skin contact immediately
after birth allows the baby to be colonized by the same bacteria as the mother.
This, plus breastfeeding, are thought to be important in the prevention of
allergic diseases. When a baby is put into an incubator, his skin and gut are
often colonized by bacteria different from his mother’s.
We now know that this
is true not only for the baby born at term and in good health, but also even for
the premature baby. Skin to skin contact and Kangaroo Mother Care can contribute
much to the care of the premature baby. Even babies on oxygen can be cared for
skin to skin, and this helps reduce their needs for oxygen, and keeps them more
stable in other ways as well.
From the point of view of breastfeeding, babies who are kept skin to skin
with the mother immediately after birth for at least an hour, are more likely to
latch on without any help and they are more likely to latch on well, especially
if the mother did not receive medication during the labour or birth. As
mentioned in the information sheet, a baby who latches on well gets milk more
easily than a baby who latches on less well. When a baby latches on well, the
mother is less likely to be sore. When a mother’s milk is abundant, the baby can
take the breast poorly and still get lots of milk, though the feedings may then
be long or frequent or both, and the mother is more prone to develop problems
such as blocked ducts and mastitis. In the first few days, however, the mother
does not have a lot of milk (but she has enough!), and a good latch is important
to help the baby get the milk that is available (yes, the milk is there even if
someone has proved to you with the big pump that there isn’t any). If the baby
does not latch on well, the mother may be sore, and if the baby does not get
milk well, the baby will want to be on the breast for long periods of time
worsening the soreness.
To recap, skin to skin contact immediately after birth, which lasts for at
least an hour has the following positive effects on the baby:
• Are more likely to latch on
• Are more likely to latch on well
• Have more stable and normal skin temperatures
• Have more stable and normal heart rates and blood pressures
• Have higher blood sugars
• Are less likely to cry
• Are more likely to breastfeed exclusively longer
There is no reason that the vast majority of babies cannot be skin to skin
with the mother immediately after birth for at least an hour. Hospital routines,
such as weighing the baby, should not take precedence.
The baby should be dried off and put on the mother. Nobody should be pushing
the baby to do anything; nobody should be trying to help the baby latch on
during this time. The mother, of course, may make some attempts to help the
baby, and this should not be discouraged. The mother and baby should just be
left in peace to enjoy each other’s company. (The mother and baby should not be
left alone, however, especially if the mother has received medication, and it is
important that not only the mother’s partner, but also a nurse, midwife, doula
or physician stay with them—occasionally, some babies do need medical help and
someone qualified should be there “just in case”). The eyedrops and the
injection of vitamin K can wait a couple of hours. By the way, immediate skin to
skin contact can also be done after cæsarean section, even while the mother is
getting stitched up, unless there are medical reasons which prevent it.
Studies have shown that even premature babies, as small as 1200 g (2 lb 10
oz) are more stable metabolically (including the level of their blood sugars)
and breathe better if they are skin to skin immediately after birth. The need
for an intravenous infusion, oxygen therapy or a nasogastric tube, for example,
or all the preceding, does not preclude skin to skin contact. Skin to skin
contact is quite compatible with other measures taken to keep the baby healthy.
Of course, if the baby is quite sick, the baby’s health must not be compromised,
but any premature baby who is not suffering from respiratory distress syndrome
can be skin to skin with the mother immediately after birth. Indeed, in the
premature baby, as in the full term baby, skin to skin contact may decrease
rapid breathing into the normal range.
Even if the baby does not latch on during the first hour or two, skin to skin
contact is still good and important for the baby and the mother for all the
other reasons mentioned.