The Golden Hour: Giving Your Newborn the Best Start



The first few minutes after a baby’s birth are a magical time.

After nine months of waiting, a new mother gets her first chance to hold her baby in her arms, to count the tiny fingers and toes and gaze into the eyes of her newborn.

While everyone knows infants need to bond with their mothers early on, research has shown that what happens during the first 60 minutes of a baby’s life can maximize that bonding experience between mother and child. That uninterrupted contact between mother and baby during the “golden hour” after birth is critical to the child’s growth and development.

A new view

In the past, mother-child bonding often took a back seat to medical procedures immediately following a baby’s birth. A new mom would watch her baby be handed to a nurse who would examine and weigh the child, clean him up, give him his Vitamin K shot, put on a diaper and swaddle him in a blanket. After all the waiting, the new parents would finally get to hold their new baby.

Health care providers now know that immediate skin-to-skin contact is the best way for a newborn and mother to bond. The sooner after birth this can happen, the better experience the family will have. In fact, the American Association of Pediatricians now recommends the following guidelines:

  • Healthy newborns should be placed in “skin-to-skin” contact with the mother until the first round of breastfeeding is established.
  • The medical caregiver and the nurses can conduct the first physical assessment of the baby while it is on the mother’s chest.
  • Conventional procedures such as weighing, measuring, bathing, injections or blood test should wait until after the first feeding.
  • Baby and mother should remain together throughout the recovery period.

Many hospitals and birthing centers now encourage families to wait at least an hour before introducing their new baby to family and friends. Instead, they encourage mother and baby to stay together and if desired, focus on giving the newborn a chance to breastfeed.

Finding a way to bond

Even in cases where medical emergencies may change a family’s birth plan, it is still possible to take advantage of bonding time in the first few minutes. If a baby needs medical attention or extra stimulation to start breathing, the child can be moved from the exam table to the mother’s chest as soon as the baby is stabilized.

Women who have a planned or unplanned cesarean section may need to wait a few moments to be able to hold the baby. In most cases, after a quick assessment, the baby can be moved to the mother’s chest while the obstetrician finishes any needed surgical work. The baby can stay at her mother’s side until she is settled into the recovery room and ready to nurse.

Benefits for mom and baby

During labor and the minutes and hours afterward, the mother’s body experiences several amazing changes. Giving birth generates changes in a woman’s brain chemistry that increases desire to nurture.

Skin-to-skin contact and the baby’s suckling at the breast release hormones that help the mother to connect to her child and cause the uterus to contract and stop bleeding. Research has shown that nursing within the first hour of life improves infant survival rates and makes it more likely that a mother will continue to breastfeed longer.

Most hospitals and birthing centers encourage breastfeeding for the benefits to both mom and baby. Babies who breastfeed have lower rates of ear infections, asthma, diabetes, childhood leukemia and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Mothers who nurse their babies have lower rates of breast cancer, ovarian cancer and diabetes.

Expectant moms should talk with family members and medical staff about their plans for the minutes after birth. Every mother and baby should have a chance to experience their "golden hour."

Posted Date: January 2012