Giving birth is a big job. Whether you delivered your baby vaginally or had a C-section, you worked hard to bring your newborn into this world. So, give yourself a pat on the back. Now you can relax a bit and get ready to enjoy your baby’s first hour of life outside of your womb. It’s a special time that has big benefits for you and your baby, both short-term and long.
What Is the Golden Hour After Birth?
The golden hour after birth is that first hour after a baby is born and has uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact with its mother. The golden hour is prime bonding time since newborns emerge from their moms’ body alert and responsive. They’re able to gaze into their moms’ eyes and hear their voice, which they’ll recognize after months of listening to it. Newborns are also soothed by the warmth of their mother’s touch and body, especially when they snuggle against their mother’s bare skin.
The term originated because a French OB/GYN in the 1970s noticed newborns were ready to nurse as soon as they were born. This “golden hour” of alertness was a natural way to make breastfeeding an easier process for moms and babies. Today, many hospitals approach the golden hour in a baby-friendly way [*].
Current Golden Hour Best Practices
Even after the golden hour after birth was recognized, it took a long time for hospitals to put baby-friendly policies into practice. That’s because bonding with babies often took a back seat to medical procedures, including weighing newborns, suctioning their airways, taking Apgar scores, and bathing the baby.
Today, though, doctors and nurses know how important bonding the first hour after birth is, so hospitals encourage these practices.
1. Skin-To-Skin Contact
After your baby is born, they’ll be wiped dry, and the doctor or nurse will put them against your bare chest. Sometimes they’ll place a hat and diaper on your baby or cover the two of you with a light blanket so you both stay warm.
Cuddling your baby next to your skin — and gazing into that sweet tiny face — floods you and your baby with oxytocin, the love and bonding hormone.
Once your newborn is on your chest, you may notice your baby rooting – squirming and turning their head toward your breast and opening their mouth. This means your newborn is ready to attempt to latch on and feed.
If you need help, a nurse can show you how to make sure your baby has a good latch. Many hospitals have lactation consultants on staff to help ensure successful nursing. Use your hospital’s resources!
3. Delayed Cord Clamping
For the past 9 months, your baby’s umbilical cord was the source of nourishment, carrying blood and nutrients from the placenta to their growing body. After the baby is delivered your baby no longer needs the umbilical cord. Doctors previously cut the umbilical cord in the first 30 seconds of life. That is not always the case today.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) now recommends delayed cord clamping – waiting at least 30 to 60 seconds before cutting the cord for all healthy babies, full- and preterm [*]. That allows the iron-rich blood to continue flowing from the placenta to the baby.
4. Putting off Non-urgent Medical Procedures
Instead of whisking your baby away for screening tests and a bath, doctors are now either delaying certain procedures (say, bathing and weighing your baby) or doing them as you cuddle.
For example, the Apgar test, which tests your baby’s ability to breathe, the muscle tone and coloring at 1 and 5 minutes after birth, can be done as your baby is on your chest. So can the quick physical exam that checks your baby’s health.
Of course, these practices will take a backseat if your baby shows any signs of medical distress, or if your baby is premature and can’t breathe on their own.
Why Is the Golden Hour After Birth So Important?
Simply put, letting parents and babies have an hour or so of quality time after childbirth carries big benefits. And those benefits last long after your hospital stay becomes a dim memory. For one, it helps moms breastfeed longer, which has big health perks. But it also gives you and your baby a chance to get to know each other while your newborn is still alert. And your partner can get in on the bonding time by cuddling your precious baby against his bare chest.
Don’t worry if you miss out on the golden hour after birth, though. Labor is exhausting and some moms are too drained to take advantage of this time. Or the baby needs to go into the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for medical reasons. Or you need medical attention.
Missing out on this first bonding session won’t ruin a future connection with your baby. You’ll have weeks and even months to forge your bond.
Golden Hour Benefits for Baby
Getting a chance to snuggle next to you for an hour or so is good for your baby’s health [*].
- Keeps your baby’s temperature steady: The warmth of your skin can help your newborn regulate theirs.
- Steadies breathing: Your baby must learn to breathe out in the world and being against you helps your newborn regulate breathing.
- Less stress: All that cuddling promotes oxytocin, which soothes your newborn.
- Less crying and more alertness: Your baby’s brain is stimulated by the sight of your face and smell.
- Easier time latching on: Your baby’s instincts kick in, so they know what to do. That helps establish breastfeeding early and makes the process easier.
- Beefing up iron stores: Delaying cord clamping can allow more iron-rich blood to flow into your baby, lowering the risk for iron deficiency later in infancy.
Golden Hour Benefits for Mom
Your baby isn’t the only one reaping benefits. Your health and wellbeing improve too [*].
- Your anxiety and stress levels go down: Thanks to the oxytocin that is being released in your brain from touching and snuggling with your baby.
- Your confidence goes up: Smelling, touching, and holding your baby helps make you feel more sure of your parenting skills.
- You’ll breastfeed longer: Getting pro help when your baby is alert and ready to nurse will give you the confidence you need to continue. And the longer you breastfeed, the more health benefits you and your baby will reap, including lowering your risk of breast cancer (you) and fewer GI infections (your baby).
Golden Hour Breastfeeding Tips
If it’s possible, it’s best to take advantage of your baby’s instinct to nurse during the golden hour after birth. Here’s how [*]:
1. Use Your Hands
Even if your baby knows what to do, you might have to help them latch on to the nipple so their mouths and jaws can do the work. That means holding your newborn’s tiny head with one hand and your breast in the other and guiding your baby to the breast once their mouth is open wide.
2. Get Those Droplets Out
Before your milk comes in, your breasts produce colostrum. The more colostrum your baby gets, the more milk your breasts will produce in the first days after childbirth. If your baby doesn’t really nurse in the first hour, squeeze out the drops of colostrum yourself by massaging your breast near the nipple with your thumb and forefinger.
3. Ask the Pros for Help
Utilize the nurses and lactation consultants at the hospital to show you how to get your baby to latch on, or any other questions you might have.
4. Breastfeed as Often as Possible
Feed your baby as much as possible during this first hour after birth and the time you spend in the hospital. Even if your baby isn’t getting much, they’re practicing — and practice makes perfect.
Where Cord Banking Fits into the Golden Hour
If you choose to bank your baby’s cord blood and/or cord tissue, then you’ll need to let your health provider or midwife know your plans. You’ll call the cord blood bank in advance to get a collection kit to take to the hospital, then your doctor/midwife will deliver your baby, and clamp and cut the umbilical cord, before they collect the cord blood and cord tissue, so there is no risk or pain to you or your baby. The cord blood and tissue contain vital stem cells that can help your baby or a family member in the future.
When you bank with MiracleCord, a professional medical courier will come to pick up your baby’s cord blood collection kit shortly after you call - instead of waiting until the next day or sending it via FedEx.
You can still delay cord clamping, so your baby gets enough iron-rich blood. Just don’t wait more than a minute, or some valuable stem cells may be lost the longer you delay.
The Bottom Line
The golden hour after birth is a special time. Expect to be flooded with overwhelming feelings as you cuddle your newborn with skin-to-skin contact.
You’ll feel good knowing that you’re giving your baby a healthy head start during that first hour after birth, especially if you choose to bank your baby’s cord blood. And you’ll be taking those first important steps toward forging a strong bond with your child.