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The Comfort of Contact

Maternityís Skin-to-Skin Initiative Benefits Mother and Baby

The first hour. This is a short timeframe, but for newborns, it is a developmentally important one. The first hour after birth is a crucial time for the baby's transition to life outside the womb. To help with this adjustment, healthy term infants should be placed in skin-to-skin contact with their mothers immediately after birth, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Skin-to-skin contact, which is considered a best practice in obstetrical care, brings about a number of benefits, including regulating the baby's body temperature and breathing rate as well as decreasing maternal anxiety and postpartum pain or discomfort. It also provides an opportunity for the early initiation of breastfeeding, leading to increased breastfeeding success. At Sturdy Memorial Hospital, Maternity staff embrace skin-to-skin contact. This involves minimizing interruptions to early mother-newborn interactions during that first hour.

In other words, allowing nature to do its thing.

"Sturdy's Maternity Department began the Skin-to-Skin Initiative in August 2011. This evidence-based practice offers health benefits that last a lifetime," says Paula Boothman, MSN, RNC, Nurse Manager. For years, it has been standard procedure in hospitals across the country to separate mothers and babies after birth for routine care. "During skin-to-skin, these procedures can be safely done while babies are in contact with their mothers."

How is skin-to-skin contact done?

"At the moment of birth, the baby is cleaned quickly and placed directly on the mother's bare chest," says Sue Bourque, RN, IBCLC, Lactation Coordinator. Mother and baby are then covered together in a soft blanket. "Clinical interventions are delayed to give time for mother and baby to bond. A nurse will continue to check the baby's health during the entire hour that the baby is resting on the mother's chest."

Why is it beneficial?

"Skin-to-skin contact is a natural intervention that activates sensory stimuli in both mother and baby, senses such as touch, scent, and warmth," says Kathy Silva, RNC, BSN, IBCLC, Lactation Consultant. "The mother's body temperature helps regulate the baby's body temperature, breathing rate, heart rate, and blood sugar. Skin-to-skin allows for immediate intimacy between mother and baby, thus facilitating behaviors such as sleep, calming, soothing, and feeding." While skin-to-skin facilitates breastfeeding, all newborns benefit from skin-to-skin contact regardless of feeding method. "Also, oxytocin–the bonding hormone–gets released, reinforcing bonding between mother and baby at the biological level."

According to Carrie R., a patient who recently gave birth to her second child at Sturdy, "Two years ago, when my daughter was born, I didn't do skin-to-skin contact. This time around, nurses educated me on what it is and I did it, and loved it. It gave me a sense of relief, having my son with me and knowing what was going on with him and his health. Knowing that he was okay. He was calm, and didn't cry. It was so much more comforting than to have him taken somewhere else right away."

Is skin-to-skin contact for everyone?

"It is a practice offered and explained to all expectant moms as part of our prenatal education," says Bourque. If for any reason a mother does not participate-for example, if a medical issue occurs–a designated partner or family member can participate in skin-to-skin with the baby.

How can I learn more about skin-to-skin contact?

More and more U.S. hospitals are embracing skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth, but this practice isn't a trend, per se. It is an ancient idea to have the baby cradled on the mother's bare chest immediately after birth, and is still practiced in many cultures.

Sturdyís Skin-to-Skin Initiative incorporates staff and patient education, and continual meetings and evaluations among the programís multidisciplinary task force, which consists of nurses, nurse practitioners, nurse educators, and other clinicians. To learn more about Sturdyís program or about the Hospitalís Maternity services, please call 508-236-7250 or click here.