The Golden Hour: You're Doing It Wrong

(AKA why skin-to-skin is so important)

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I recently had the privilege of attending a hospital birth in the Greater Toronto Area. Mom had decided before birth to have an epidural, and so my job as her doula and photographer was to support her emotionally, keep her moving and changing positions as much as possible, and of course documenting those beautiful labour and after-birth moments.

Sidenote: this hospital did not allow, under any circumstances, photos or video taken during the actual birth. Before hiring a birth photographer it’s a good idea to check first with your birthing centre to ensure that they allow photographers and any limitations they have. Luckily this mama wasn’t interested in photos of the actual birth!

The hospital has a standard protocol of protecting the first hour after birth, also called “The Golden Hour,” but I was surprised that it wasn’t what I had expected it to be, nor was it what I had witnessed at other birth centres. 

What I expected was no weighing, checking, or administration of medication to baby in the first hour, skin-to-skin with mom (or the birth partner, if mom is unable), initiation of breastfeeding, and generally letting the parents and baby bond undisturbed. Did I mention skin-to-skin?

What I saw was baby quickly swaddled after birth and placed in mom’s arms.  While there was no weighing or medication in the first hour and the family was for the most part left undisturbed, I was surprised that skin-to-skin was not encouraged by hospital staff until close to the end of the first hour when baby was showing signs of wanting to nurse. Yet, around the hospital are posters touting the benefits of skin-to-skin, and there was no indication that it would have been anything but beneficial for both mom and baby. On top of that, mom had expressed before birth that skin-to-skin was something that she wanted to do. In fact, even dad knew about the benefits of skin-to-skin and couldn’t wait to have his turn to cuddle his new baby on his chest.

So what are the benefits of skin-to-skin?

  • It helps babies acclimate to this strange, new, cold world. Babies are born wanting to cuddle! They are happiest and feel most safe when they are with their mother (or father), and able to interact with their parents through direct contact. Remember they’ve been in a warm, dark home for 10 months - it can be quite a culture shock to suddenly be in a new world with bright lights.
  • Skin-to-skin helps babies to breathe more naturally, regulates their blood sugar, body temperature, and heart rate, and elicits the natural rooting and breast crawl that can be so helpful in initiating a successful breastfeeding journey.
  • Babies are less likely to cry or be fussy when held skin-to-skin
  • It helps the breastfeeding parent produce prolactin, which is essential for milk production, and it helps the caregivers to more easily read baby’s cues.
In fact, skin-to-skin is known to be so beneficial that many hospitals in the Toronto and Durham Region are now offering Gentle Cesareans, which include immediate skin-to-skin with mom and delayed cord clamping.

All this to say that...I was surprised and a little bit dismayed that despite all we know about the benefits of skin-to-skin, it may not be as standard a protocol as we think it is in the current hospital system. If you’ve had a similar experience, pop it in the comments below!