Skin-to-skin isn’t just good for babies, it’s important for mums

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock Photo: Generic

I went into immediate shock after the birth of my second baby.

She was born so quickly that the call to let the hospital know we were on our way turned to an emergency ambulance call. It was so fast that, by the time the 000 operator began to instruct us what to do, my husband called out, "It's a girl!"

I'd been trying to get to the hospital, but an accidental home birth was what actually happened. She fell into her dad's hands in our bedroom, and he held her until the ambulance arrived.

The ambulance officers cut the cord and checked the baby over. It wasn't long, though, before they handed her back to her dad. "The baby's fine," one said to the other, "but look at the mum."

I hadn't moved, except for the intense shaking that had taken over my whole body.

They wrapped me in blankets and drove me to the hospital; my husband, with the baby still in his arms, came in the ambulance and followed me into the emergency room.

It was frantic in there. Doctors and nurses were everywhere, shouting about my plummeting blood pressure and increasing blood loss.

Meanwhile, a part of me had left my body; it was like I was watching myself from above.

Eventually, that outer part of me pointed to the clock and I looked up. My husband had noted the time when our baby was born – 4.42am – and it was now 5.40am. It's been an hour since she was born, I thought.

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Finally, I found my voice. "I haven't held my baby yet," I managed above all the noise.

A nurse grabbed the baby from my husband and placed her on top of me.

My world changed instantly.

The part of me that had been watching from above came back into me; I was whole again. The noise in the room lowered; the next words I heard were, "Her blood pressure's going back up" and "The blood loss is slowing".

As it turned out, all I'd needed was my baby.   

Skin-to-skin is important for mums and babies

Much research has been done on the impact of skin-to-skin contact between mums and babies.

This research is almost always focused on the positive outcomes for the baby. The World Health Organisation and UNICEF recommend skin-to-skin contact in their Baby Friendly Hospitals initiative, in order to assist breastfeeding rates. It's also been proven that skin-to-skin regulates a baby's temperature, heart rate and immunity, and encourages a bond between mum and baby.

All of this research and knowledge is vital for the health of babies all over the world.

However, little is known about whether skin-to-skin contact benefits a new mum as a solo entity. Friends of mine who are midwives certainly acknowledge that it's important for mums, and anecdotally many women say that holding their newborn baby has positively impacted them, increased their confidence as a parent, and helped them feel a connection to their baby and to their new role.

My experience is that skin-to-skin contact can have powerful effects of both mums and babies.

This is something that isn't just good for babies, and not just important for the relationship between the baby and the mum. Skin-to-skin contact could well be good for a mum's health and wellbeing, too – when, of course, she is able to do so and gives her consent for this to happen.

There are many mysteries that science is yet to unveil. And I reckon skin-to-skin is one of those things that research may never be able to pinpoint the full breadth of; one of those magical forces of nature, much like birth itself, that's a secret between a mum and her baby.