The Golden Hour After Birth and Why It's Important
The minutes after you give birth to your baby are miraculous; many women report feeling astounded, overwhelmed with happiness and deeply in love with their baby from the moment they see that little face.
It’s also traditionally been a time where the baby was whisked away within minutes for weighing, testing, and administering medicine, being cleaned up, and then eventually returned to mom. We know now that is not the best practice, and the transition between birth and the first hour is critical for the health of mom and baby. Practitioners refer to this time as “the Golden Hour.”
Birth is beautiful, but it is traumatic for babies and sometimes for moms. The baby is expelled from it's serene and lovely place and enters a world that has harsh light, cold temperatures and noise. Easing that transition by being close to your skin helps the baby in so many ways. Your skin, smell and touch are familiar to them, even right after birth!
By 2009 the practice of the Golden Hour after birth was being touted by such organizations as UNICEF and WHO. Today, it has become much more widely practiced, significantly improving mother-newborn bonding and preventing newborns from hypothermia and hypoglycemia.
What Happens During the Golden Hour
Today, experts know that the very best thing after delivery is for your baby to be placed directly on your skin before the umbilical cord is clamped. Mom and baby are cuddled up together as the care team gets ready for the next steps, which includes cutting the umbilical cord. In the past, it was thought that this had to happen just after the cord stops pulsing, but we now know that it can be delayed anywhere from 1-5 minutes after birth for most babies.
Your baby can be dried while you hold them close to your skin, and any medicines can be administered without having to move them. Baths and tests can wait until after the Golden Hour unless your practitioner has any concerns.
What the Golden Hour Does For Your Baby
In the hour after their birth, your baby’s body is working hard. It’s helping the baby transition to life outside the womb by regulating their body temperature, increasing circulation, and stabilizing glucose and blood pressure. You may have heard this referred to as “the Transition Period”.
You may notice that your baby’s skin changes from a bluish-purple tinge to a healthy pink though their hands and feet, taking as long as 24 hours to get full circulation.
The skin-to-skin contact benefits them in so many other ways; it helps decrease crying, decreases the spike of stress hormones they have during birth, and activates their amygdala, which is the part of the brain that controls “fight or flight.”
Babies who have 31-60 minutes of skin-to-skin contact are also more likely to be successful at breastfeeding and will often continue to breastfeed past the critical 3 month period.
Your baby may be sleepy, alert, quiet, or fussy during this time -- all that matters is that they have you. If, for any reason, mom cannot be present for the Golden Hour, then “Kangaroo Care” is suggested with dad or a support person. The important part is that the baby is held closely, loved and receives that critical skin-to-skin contact.
What the Golden Hour Does For Moms
Because the skin-to-skin contact promotes bonding, many moms report less anxiety about being a new mom by about day three and feel more confident about parenting if they’ve had sufficient Golden Hour time.
It benefits your body too! The oxytocin released during this time helps your uterus contract, reduces blood loss and promotes milk letdown for nursing. This chemical cocktail that your body mixes up is good stuff; it can also help you lose postpartum weight more quickly.
We suggest you talk to your provider about your wishes for the Golden Hour and even consider putting a sign on the door to keep people away while you spend this special time with your baby. Friends and family can wait to hear about baby’s arrival; they’ve waited this long!
When the Golden Hour is Not Advised For Mom & Baby
In some cases, there are complications at birth that may restrict mom and baby from the suggested Golden Hour. The safety of mom and newborn is always first in the provider’s mind, and while these complications are rare, they may delay or affect the timing of the Golden Hour.
Maternal problems that can delay the Golden Hour:
- Severe exhaustion
- Severe sleepiness (especially if opioids have been administered)
- The temperature of mom over 101 degrees (possible infection)
If the baby is deemed to be able, then a partner or other support system may be able to provide the skin-to-skin contact for this time.
Newborn issues that can delay the Golden Hour:
- Babies born before they have completed 34 weeks in utero
- Respiratory distress
- Possible infection
- Some congenital anomalies
- Signs of infant distress or need for neonatal resuscitation
As always, discuss your concerns with your practitioner and find out their philosophy for Golden Hour.