Touch is the ultimate positive communication. The sensitive mother’s hands, fingers, and arms are warm, calm, and receptive, her whole body conveying that her infant is endearing, desirable, adorable, precious. With loving, tender touch more or less a constant, her infant feels loved, lovable, and accepted.
Sharon Heller, PhD ~ The Vital Touch
The first hour of a baby’s life is known as The Magical Hour. During this hour, your baby will go through 9 distinct stages when she is placed upon Mom’s chest directly after birth- 9 stages that we all, as infants, are primally wired to experience.
When infants and mothers experience skin to skin right after birth, bonding occurs naturally. Back in the day, we thought that babies had to immediately be placed in warming beds after birth, but now we know that mothers have thermal synchrony with their infants! This means that when a baby is placed on your chest, your breasts will change temperature, and warm your baby by up to 2 degrees Celsius, or cool her by 1 degree, depending on what she needs in that moment. Our bodies know just what is right for ourselves and our new baby, and immediate skin to skin and touch has lasting benefits for all involved.
In The Primal Connection, Mark Sisson explains that
Newborns who have abundant contact with their caregivers, particularly the mother, each day tend to be calmer and less fussy. The tend to sleep better and fall into a regulated schedule more easily than those who receive less touch. They gain weight and grow more. On the other hand, babies who experience touch deprivation show markedly suppressed levels of growth hormone, oxytocin and vasopressin (another bonding-related hormone), and higher levels of cortisol (the primary neurochemical associated with stress).
Once your baby is Earthbound, he will experience the the following 9 stages- all which can occur if he is simply placed upon Mom’s belly or chest (depending on the length of the umbilical cord!) right after birth:
Your baby will shout her birth cry as her lungs fully expand. If the baby was born vaginally, her lungs will have been ‘squeezed’ while being pressed through the birth canal, and most fluid will be “coughed” out immediately after her upper half is born.
While in utero, your baby did not have to use her lungs, because oxygen was passed through the placenta and umbilical cord. Now that she is out in the world, she will use her lungs for the very first time ~ one of many exciting “firsts” you will have the honor of experiencing with her.
After he cries, your baby will fall into a state of deep relaxation. Eye and body movements will be minimal, and he can relax on your bare chest, warmed by your thermosynthesis and a blanket over him. Warm, safe and secure, there is no better place to relax than right on his mother. The birth cry and relaxation stages all occur within the first few minutes of life.
Your baby may begin to awaken from her relaxation stage. She might begin to move her shoulders, head, mouth, eyes, arms and legs.
Around 8 minutes after birth, your baby will begin to make more pronounced movements and may begin to make sucking motions and other early feeding cues, such as displaying her Rooting Reflex. You may notice her focusing her eyes- she may be able to see as far as 7-12 inches!
This is, to me, one of the most amazing things that we do as human beings in an entire lifetime. Your baby comes equipped with an incredible primal reflex called the Walking or Stepping Reflex, and will literally crawl from your stomach or chest, to your breasts. Yes, really. Not only can your newborn baby crawl/step from your stomach to your chest, but in the process also massages your uterus, which may help to expel the placenta and reduce uterine bleeding. (Klaus and Kennel, 2001). The stage is also known as The Breast Crawl. Interestingly, the Stepping Reflex disappears at approximately 6 weeks after birth.
Your baby may rest for long or short periods during this first hour.
Once the baby crawls to the breasts, she will begin to explore. Using her hands and mouth she will begin to touch and massage the breast. Just as cats do, the baby will “make biscuits” in her own way. Her sense of smell is highly developed; most babies respond to scents as early as 7 months gestation! (Schaal, Orgeur, Rognon 1995). She’ll use this incredible sense to find her way around your breast.
Amniotic fluid may also have a role in helping infants locate the mother’s nipple (Porter & Winberg, 1999; Varendi et al., 1994). There is considerable overlap in the odors contained in amniotic fluid and the secretion of odors surrounding the nipple and areola and newborn infants will crawl on the mother’s belly to reach her nipple…
A Sense of Smell Institute White Paper, Review: Olfaction in the Human Infant
After she has found the nipple through touch, smell and taste, your baby can self-latch and begin to feed herself!
Labor is hard work, and your baby will be tired after his spiral dance down into your life. The sleep stage is a wonderful opportunity for Mom, baby and Mom’s support team to get some rest.
From research by Jack Newman, MD, FRCPC and the International Breastfeeding Centre, immediate skin to skin for the first hour of life has incredible benefits for your baby:
- baby is more likely to latch and latch on well
- maintains body temperature normal better than an incubator
- is less likely to cry
- will indicate to Mom when ready to feed
- is more likely to breastfeed exclusively and breastfeed longer
- has higher blood sugar
- maintains her normal heart rate, blood pressure and respiratory rate
We also know that consistency and quality of touch as an infant can affect the child’s social and emotional development later in life:
There is a clear relation between a lack of touching in infancy and childhood and the awkwardness and roughness in “play” that characterizes such individuals in childhood and in later life- individuals who are unable to establish contact without colliding. – Ashley Montagu, Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin
Especially if your parenting practices reflect the same values of infant massage, your child will be more likely to respond to others with empathy and warmth, to respond to social problems with compassion and altruism, and to experience life as a joyful adventure in which he has the opportunity to love and be loved- to help others and extend himself in genuine service to humanity. -Vimala McClure, Infant Massage: A Handbook for Loving Parents
Skin to skin does not have to end after The Magical Hour- Kangaroo Care is an amazing way to bond and encourage your infant’s intuition and trust in you. It’s also a great way for dads and partners to relax and bond with baby, too! Infants want to feel your warmth, hear your heartbeat and inhale your smell; there’s no safer or more comfortable place to be than snug against their parent’s chest, not only right after birth but throughout infancy.
Infant Massage: A Handbook for Loving Parents, Vimala McClure
The Primal Connection, Mark Sisson
Sense of Smell Institute
The Vital Touch: How Intimate Contact with Your Baby Leads to Happier, Healthier Development, Sharon Heller, PhD
International Breastfeeding Centre
Jack Newman, MD, FRCPC
The Magical Hour
Touching; The Human Significance of the Skin, Ashley Montagu
From Birth to Breast