During pregnancy and throughout labor, we look forward to the moments after birth as the finish line. In many ways, it is. You wait and work for the moment when your baby’s velvet skin touches yours. But in no way does that mean your body’s work has ended. Yes, parenting work is about to begin, but there are also big changes, hormonal shifts, and developmental milestones about to happen within the very first hour after birth. Breastfeeding immediately after birth connects mom and baby in these moments of change to help improve their bond and latch for the rest of their breastfeeding relationship.
The First Hour
In a normal birth, the baby goes right to mama’s chest with a warm blanket over him. The relief you’ve been looking forward to comes in the form of waves of oxytocin - the love hormone - which serves a dual purpose as it helps the uterus continue to contract to expel the placenta. As baby calms from the initial crying, he kicks his legs and squirms, and his legs also help to encourage contractions.
The cord, left alone, will change from tightly coiled and bluish purple to limp and white as it stops pulsing all of baby’s blood back into him. Contractions will expel the placenta, with the care provider making sure it comes out in tact.
During this time, the baby is usually calming, waking up to the world around him. He will become interested in the breast, smacking and licking his lips, eventually squirming his way to the breast to latch experimentally on his own.
Breastfeeding Immediately After Birth
Baby’s new world is her mother’s chest and face. In fact, he sees basic shapes and shades the best, making the areolas that darkened throughout pregnancy a beautiful target for him to want to get to. Beyond that, he can see about the distance from mother’s arms to mother’s face. Mom is all he needs just after birth and for a long while.
At the same time, mom’s instincts are strong in the hour after birth. She holds baby close in an optimal position for nursing, belly to belly and cuddled at the breast. She bonds with baby’s eye contact and responds instinctively as baby begins to try to latch.
When skin to skin and nursing are established immediately after birth, outcomes are better for both mom and baby. The shared body heat, heart beat, and breathing rates keep baby more stable in those critical moments. The triggers for milk supply are set into motion. The breastfeeding relationship is off to a great start, and the latch is likely to be better once baby really wakes up.
Babies who breastfeed immediately also tend to cry less and have better outcomes thanks to early ingestion of “liquid gold,” highly nutrient-dense colostrum.
The early latch and those first moments during the hour after birth should be relatively undisturbed. A mother shouldn’t feel overly watched or corrected. The important thing for this early latch is not perfection but bonding and instinct. Later, after the two have slept, the care provider can help mom learn or re-learn to bring baby to the breast with a good, strong latch.
Birth Plans for the First HourBecause of the better outcomes for baby and bonding for mom, early initiation of breastfeeding is recommended by the World Health Organization. As part of a normal birth, baby should immediately be placed skin to skin and breastfeeding established within the hour.
Things happen during birth, unexpected or planned, that can alter the progression of the first hour. Pain medication might make baby sleepy, which would drag the progression out longer than an hour. Artificial oxytocin (Pitocin) is sometimes given immediately as part of a routine administration, which may inhibit mom’s natural production of oxytocin and the instincts for bonding and latching. And a Cesarean can, of course, alter the timeline and how both baby and mama are feeling.
As you are making your birth plans for any scenario - including in case of hospital transfer or a planned C-section - discuss with your care providers how important it is to you to get your baby skin to skin as soon as possible. Your partner, doula or midwife will be there to help you breastfeed in a prompt manner.
- Skin-to-skin holds are feasible and encouraged in nearly every single situation. Preemie babies fare best skin-to-skin, even when they are too early to nurse well.
- C-sections, depending on the circumstance, can still end with baby on your chest. Discuss ways to make this possible with your provider.
- Consider the way that interventions like medication and Pitocin might affect the first hour after birth and talk with your doula and care provider about ways to create the best outcomes.
The first hour after birth is a wonder of life and resilient in many circumstances. Allow your baby to acclimate to you as uninterrupted as possible, offer him the breast as your instincts allow, and rest for a moment after all that hard work. You’ve earned it!