If you have been to a birthing class or two you have probably heard of the golden hour after birth. People often refer to it because it has a whole host of benefits for both you and your infant. However, there are going to be circumstances where it just isn’t possible due to medical complications. Rarely do births go perfectly as planned. Don’t stress, you can still have a healthy baby and build a beautiful bond with them even if you don’t get that golden hour after birth. Making it a priority if possible is definitely worth it. Read on to understand why.
What is The Golden Hour After Birth?
The “Golden Hour” was termed by Dr. R Adams Cowley a trauma Physician in the 1960s. He noticed that when they implemented a set standardized emergency protocol for trauma patients within the first hour of care their outcomes significantly improved and mortality rates decreased.
The term “golden hour” was then brought over into the care of mothers and babies with that similar focus of a set of evidenced based standard protocols the hour after birth that resulted in the best outcomes for infants.
Both the WHO (World Health Organization) and UNICEF recommend that all newborns including those born via cesarean experience the golden hour after birth.
Golden Hour Best Practices
- Skin-to-Skin: the unclothed newborn should be quickly dried and placed belly down on the mother’s abdomen or chest before cutting the umbilical cord. A towel can gently dry and remove any secretions from the mouth and nose (bulb suctioning is no longer the best practice).
- Delayed Cord Clamping: There is no standard time that is recommended for cutting of the cord. The WHO recommends cutting cord at 1-3 minutes or when the cord ceases to pulsate, The American College of midwives recommends 5 minutes or 2 minutes if newborn is at or below the level of the vaginal opening, and the American College of OBstetricians and Gynecologists recommend 30-60 seconds after birth. The delay of cord clamping promotes improved circulation and red blood cell volume, increased birth weight and greater iron stores for infants at 6 months of age.
- Breastfeeding: Immediate skin-to-skin increases the amount of time newborns are alert just after birth which increases successful latching and breastfeeding initiation during the golden hour after birth. This often leads to longer exclusive breastfeeding in the long term.
- Newborn Bonding and Infant Adaptation: Newborns are use to a nice cozy 98.6 degrees and come out to a world that is around 70 degrees or cooler in most hospital rooms. It is a big shock and they are making many adjustments very quickly. That skin-to-skin for 60 minutes helps them to adjust to their new world with mom’s help.
- Performing Newborn Assessments on Mother’s Chest: all assessments should be performed on mother’s chest unless there is a medical emergency for the mother or the child.
- Putting off Non-Urgent Medical Procedures: This includes weighing, measuring, and bathing the newborn.
Benefits For Moms & Babies
The golden hour after birth comes with many benefits for mothers as well as newborns both in the short and long term.
Reduces Risk for Hypoglycemia: The act of placing the infant on the mother’s chest skin-to-skin for the golden hour after birth actually promotes increasing blood sugars in newborns decreasing the risk of hypoglycemia and the need for additional medical treatment.
Thermoregulation: Newborns struggle to adapt to their new world and often struggle to regulate their temperature on their own. A mother’s chest will actually regulate the newborn’s temperature by thermal synchrony which will warm a cold baby and cool down if the baby is warm.
Stabilizes Respiratory Rate and Blood Pressure
Decreases Stress Levels: The presence of being on the Mother’s chest decreases the amount of stress hormones released in newborns.
Improves Mother Baby Attachment: This is through the release of oxytocin (the love hormone) released when the baby is placed on the chest immediately after birth. This hormone continues to be released with skin-to-skin even after the golden hour after birth, so skin-to-skin should be done at home to continue to develop mother and baby bonding.
Encourages Breastfeeding: That release of oxytocin initiates breast milk letdown. Initiation of exclusive breastfeeding contributes to your uterus more rapidly returning to pre-pregnancy size, decreased postpartum blood loss, and increased postpartum weight loss.
Improves Maternal Mood & Confidence: Less anxiety was seen in mothers by day 3 of the postpartum period and they were more confident in their parenting abilities upon discharge.
How to Ensure Skin-to-Skin Happens After Delivery
- Make sure your birthing location supports the golden hour after birth prior to choosing a location to give birth.
- Ensure your medical team is aware of your desires upfront. Completing a birth plan and giving it to your medical team well in advance can help them be aware of how important it is to you.
- Have a discussion in about about your desires to do skin-to-skin even if you have an emergency cesarean or that you would like your partner to participate in skin-to-skin if you are medically unable.
- Have an advocate present at your birth to speak up for you if you can’t or don’t feel comfortable doing so. This can be a spouse, partner, family member, or even a professional such as a birth doula.
Frequently Asked Questions
Although the golden hour after birth is touted as this beautiful bonding experience, it may not be quite what you pictured. It is often messy, overwhelming, and frustrating as you make your first attempts to breastfeed. Be careful not to build it up in your mind prior to experiencing it. That brief 60 minutes can jump between chaos and peaceful bliss as you make your first introductions to your newborn. The health benefits that come along with the golden hour after birth can give you a great start to your new role as parent to your child. It is a huge change for both of you, but is worth the effort to make it happen.
Jess is a registered nurse with over 6+ years of critical care experience for patients young and old and is the mother of two small children. After having her own children she felt inspired to provide mothers with real actionable guidance and education to make informed decisions throughout their pregnancy and postpartum experience.