The “golden hour”: giving your newborn the best possible start

The first few minutes after birth are a magical time to bond with your baby.

“I think for a lot of moms, it’s finally that moment where you can breathe, at least for me, when I first held us, it was like, you know, it was nine months of not knowing what this baby looked like. And the way they felt, eventually I could feel it,” said Dr. Michelle Schimelpfenig, a pediatrician at Sanford Health in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Research shows that what happens in the first 60 minutes of a baby’s life, often called the golden hour, can maximize the bond between mother and child.

“The golden hour is very beneficial and crucial for the years to come between mom and baby. It’s very helpful in stabilizing the newborn coming out of the womb and in building the bond,” says Tenelle Choal, a certified nurse midwife at Sanford Health in Sioux Falls.

Prioritizing the relationship with your baby
In the past, intimacy with the baby usually took a backseat to medical procedures. New mothers watched as their babies were handed off to nurses for exams, cleanings and other details. After waiting so long, new parents finally get to hold their baby.

Health care providers now know there are better ways to spend the first 60 minutes of life.

“Every situation is slightly different, but in the perfect situation where everything goes well, the baby will be delivered and then the baby will immediately be on the mother’s chest and they will have skin-to-skin contact,” Dr. Schmelpfenig says.

Many hospitals and birthing centers now encourage parents to wait at least an hour before introducing the baby to family and friends. Instead, they encourage mothers to stay with their babies and, if needed, to focus on giving their newborns the opportunity to breastfeed.

Skin-to-skin contact and baby sucking on the breast can be beneficial for both mother and baby.

“For the baby, it helps with thermoregulation, or the fancy term for helping the baby regulate its body temperature as well as stabilize its blood sugar,” Choal says. “And then for mom, it helps her produce hormones that help her with breastfeeding and milk production, and reduces her stress, anxiety and depression.”

As a certified nurse midwife, Choal says she also found that babies who experienced the golden hour cried less and were less irritable. Studies have shown that these babies also have a history of better sleep quality, growth and breastfeeding rates.

Finding ways to bond
Routines such as weighing, measuring, bathing, injections or blood tests should wait until after the first feeding, according to Dr. Schimelpfenig.

Even in cases where a medical emergency may alter a family’s birth plan, the first few minutes of bonding time can be used. If the infant requires medical attention or additional stimulation to begin breathing, the child can be moved from the examination table to the mother’s chest once the infant is stabilized.

Women with planned or unplanned cesarean deliveries may need to wait a few moments to hold the infant. In most cases, after a quick assessment, the nurse can move the baby to the mother’s chest. The baby can remain with the mother until she is in the recovery room and ready to nurse.

Prime time benefits for mother and baby
The mother’s body undergoes several amazing changes during labor and in the minutes and hours afterward. Childbirth causes changes in a woman’s brain chemicals that increase the desire to nurture.

Establishing breastfeeding early will support a good supply of breast milk during the first week, says Dr. Schimelpfenig. This helps babies regain birth weight and reduces the chance of other health problems.

“If we can work to establish care, successfully breastfeed and get an adequate milk supply, then mom’s milk will eventually come in. This really helps to reduce or minimize bilirubin (a substance in the blood that causes jaundice in newborns) because the more the baby eats, the more poop, the more urine, the more bilirubin is excreted,” she says.

Most hospitals and birthing centers encourage breastfeeding because it can also prevent certain diseases later in life.

“Breastfeeding is great. Current studies show that breastfeeding for 13 weeks can prevent IBS for about seven years. Breastfeeding for four months can prevent ear infections for three years. Fifteen weeks of breastfeeding can prevent respiratory infections for seven years, and six months of breastfeeding can prevent Hodgkin’s disease,” Choal said.

Any amount of breastfeeding can prevent wheezing and bronchitis for six to seven years, and it can prevent Hib meningitis for up to 10 years.

Expectant mothers should discuss their plans for the minutes after delivery with their families and medical staff.

“I think there’s enough research and studies to prove that (prime time) is worth fighting for. And I think from a hospital culture standpoint, you’ll find that most hospitals do as much skin-to-skin contact and as little intervention as possible within the first hour,” Dr. Schimelpfenig says.