At the time of birth, ideally the baby is placed on the parents chest. This skin-to-skin contact helps the baby regulate their breathing, temperature and heart rate. Babies tend to feel most comfortable here and will appear more settled when having a cuddle. It is a huge feat to be born so this helps ease the transition and lets them know they are safe and loved.
The chest area and breasts have a microbiome that helps seed the baby’s digestion. This is important for their digestive health for the rest of their life.
Skin-to-skin contact also releases oxytocin which helps the mother to safely birth the placenta and minimise blood loss at birth.
A little while after birth, the baby will hopefully show interest in having a feed. At birth, they have a ‘stepping reflex’ that can help them instinctively crawl up the chest towards the nipples. This is known as the ‘breast crawl’. The baby stepping on the abdomen also helps stimulate the uterus to contract to help prevent excess blood loss. How smart is nature?
A newborn baby may start bopping their head around, sticking their tongue out and trying to suck their hand. They will be looking for the nipples (which usually become darker in pregnancy). They may also be attracted to the breasts by the sense of smell.
By holding the baby nice and close, you can help them feel secure while they bop their head naturally and find the breast on their own. Babies often attach beautifully when given time and space to do it themselves. Ideally they open their mouth wide and have a deep latch.
If everything is going well after birth then interventions like cutting the cord, weighing and measuring can wait until after baby has had their first feed. This ‘golden hour’ is really important to getting breastfeeding off a to a good start.
Birth is unpredictable so sometimes the hour after birth is not as smooth sailing as we hope. If medication is needed during labour then the babies can be a bit sleepy and not as alert. If a baby is needing special care then immediate skin-to-skin contact may not be possible.
However, people can recreate these bonding moments later. Perhaps having a bath together or simply laying in bed naked can help boost oxytocin and bonding. People may need to wait for the medication to wear off before their baby will show an interest in feeding.
You can also take time before each feed to have skin-to-skin contact, watch for their cues and allow time for bonding and breastfeeding.
Remember to ask for support
It’s a great idea to see if you can hire the support of a private midwife, postpartum doula, lactation counsellor or IBCLC. This will help you get breastfeeding off to a great start and for ongoing support during your postpartum.
I encourage you to also get my free natural birth checklist. This has tips for the three stages of labour as well as a place you can select your preferences around skin-to-skin contact, delayed cord clamping, bonding and breastfeeding. Download below
Download this free natural birth checklist that covers practical tips and natural suggestions for the three stages of labor. Start feeling more confident about your birth plan.