When birth workers mention the "Golden Hour", we're referring to the first hour after the baby is born. It's importance is pretty universal across the obstetric world, and is used across the globe as a tool to improve both maternal and infant outcomes! I want to take a moment and chat about what the Golden Hour can look like for you, why it's important, and how to get the most out of it!
The Golden Hour Goals
During this first hour or two we ideally want:
Uninterrupted skin to skin between baby and mom
All assessments are done while on moms chest
Keep a dark, quiet, environment
Allow baby free access to the breasts
Allow baby to nuzzle, lick, and touch nipples
Initiate the first latch and feeding
Delayed cord clamping until cord is white and no longer pulsing
So what's happening with the Mom during the Golden Hour? Well, she's meeting her baby! After the huge rush of adrenaline that comes with pushing or birthing a baby, her body, hormones, and brain are primed to bond and protect her newborn. The oxytocin that comes from the skin to skin with baby and the nipple stimulation from baby helps her uterus clamp down more effectively, and can help pass the placenta and reduce her risk of hemorrhage! A uninterrupted Golden Hour (or two!) with baby helps promote bonding, reduces the risk or severity of postpartum mental health disorders, and can be a great start to mom and baby's breastfeeding relationship!
Baby has been through quite a journey. Regardless of delivery method, your baby's body is going through a huge change adjusting to the outside world. Their entire cardiovascular system makes a shift, their lungs have to open and clear themselves, their colon passes their first bowel movement, and so much more! Your baby is going to need a lot of support and reassurance during this. This Golden Hour is their ultimate support system. Contact with mom helps to regulate their temperature, heart rate, breathing, and even blood sugar! Babies are also born skin hungry. Since they've ideally received plenty of nutrient rich blood from the placenta, they don't need to "eat" for substance right away. This is why it's generally ok if the baby doesn't latch right away! A lot of times baby will nuzzle, lick, or even pull on the nipple. This is all good and should be encouraged! They've never seen your nipple before, all they know is that they want it! Fun fact - your nipples actually excrete an oil that smells like amniotic fluid to help them find it! So remember, your baby is new here, so it's ok to give them a little time to figure things out. All contact is good contact.
This time is extremely important for establishing your milk supply! After your body passes your placenta, your hormone receptors are primed for prolactin, which is the milk making hormone. We want as many of those receptors to be filled, and the way to trigger the creation of prolactin is - nipple stimulation! This is why we want baby to start playing with the nipples, or even suckling if they're interested, as soon as possible! This starts filling those receptors and establishing your supply. This is also why it's important to feed your baby often those first few days. It may seem like your baby is eating ALL THE TIME, but they know what they're doing. They're trying to build your supply up! So lay back, rest up, and latch on!
When Things Don't Go As Planned
Let's be honest. Birth is unpredictable. We try our best to stack the odds in our favor by taking care of our bodies, taking a birth class, hiring a doula, and all of the other things that could possible work in our favor. But sometimes, things take a turn. Please know, that this is NOT the end of your bonding or breastfeeding relationship! We know that the Golden Hour is important, but we also know that it doesn't have to be all or nothing. Rolling with the changes can still make for a great bonding experience for both mom and baby! Here's some ideas.
If it has to be delayed because baby needs intervention, ask if you can hold baby's hand, send clothing items with your scent, or provide voice recordings for baby to hear! Remember - delayed skin to skin is STILL skin to skin! It doesn't loose it's benefit because it's not in the first hour.
If it's delayed because mom needs intervention, have baby do skin to skin with another family member! This still has so many great benefits for baby, and is a great bonding opportunity for the other parent!
In the Operating Room - If you are having a planned cesarean, or even if you're not, I'd encourage you to look into a gentle cesarean, or family centered cesarean! This option provides immediate skin to skin in the OR, and it's even possible to initiate the first latch in the OR! If mom is unconscious for the surgery, there is still a benefit to immediate skin to skin! This contact can help regulate both mom and baby, making recovery easier for everyone! This will just take some creative help with an additional nurse or doula. However, nursing is not always an option with this, depending on the medications used for sedation. But the baby can still play with the breast for some added nipple stimulation! With the right team - anything is possible!
Do you have plans for your Golden Hour written into your Birth Preferences? Consult with your provider and Doula for some ideas on how to get the most out of your Golden Hour.