The golden hour after birth is a sacred time for the birth parent and baby and should be part of your birth experience—an OB-Gyn shares why.
Delivery causes a lot of stress to a newborn baby and the mother or birthing parent. Both of their bodies go through so much during the labor and delivery process.
The golden hour is essential to help minimize stress and promote a calm and healthy environment.
Fortunately, more and more labor and delivery units around the country are making the golden hour after birth the standard of care. But knowing more about its benefits can help you advocate for it in your birth plan.
Editor’s Note: Birth is unpredictable, and the opportunity for the golden hour isn’t always possible, given emergencies for both baby and the birthing parent.
If you and your baby are both healthy and stable, advocate for your right to enjoy the Golden Hour.
What is the golden hour after birth?
In short, the “Golden Hour” is the first 1 to 2 hours of a baby’s life and is simply uninterrupted time, ideally skin-to-skin, with the birthing parent.
The golden hour starts even before you deliver your placenta. Once the baby is born and placed on your chest or abdomen, this term called “skin-to-skin” begins the process.
Once the baby is in contact with your skin, they will usually relax and stop crying. They may even fall asleep. When a baby is placed on its mother’s chest, it can feel very calming heartbeats.
The benefits of the golden hour
As mentioned earlier, the golden hour is becoming standard practice in most birth settings around the U.S. because the benefits are so undeniable.
There are many health benefits to the baby and the person who gave birth.
The Golden Hour after birth is essential to help minimize stress and promote a calm and healthy environment.
Over that hour, the baby may remain calm or try to start suckling or rooting. This reaction is normal, as the baby can often smell their mother and instinctively knows to root for the nipple for food.
Benefits for baby
Allows time for delayed cord clamp, which will benefit the baby right after birth.
Regulates baby’s body functions: Research shows that skin-to-skin care after birth can stabilize cardiorespiratory systems, blood glucose levels, stress levels, body temperature, and nervous system regulation. Delivery becomes less of a shock to the baby’s system.
Reduces stress levels in mama and baby: Research has documented measurably lower stress levels after just 1 hour of skin-to-skin care.
Linked to better breastfeeding outcomes: When you can do uninterrupted skin-to-skin, your baby will often self-initiate breastfeeding. The baby can smell the mother’s skin and is comforted by her, so able to latch easier.
So, skin-to-skin care is a beautiful way to start on the right foot if you plan to breastfeed. And some research indicates an association between breastfeeding in the first hour and greater breastfeeding success.
Boosts baby’s immune system: The bacteria from mom and her environment is getting on the baby, letting the baby’s immune system know what will become familiar.
Promotes bonding: Spending time skin-to-skin with your baby can promote immediate bonding with your new baby because oxytocin (those feel-good hormones!) surges in mama and baby (source).
Lower infant mortality rates: Studies suggest that when breastfeeding occurs within an hour of birth, there is a reduced risk of infant mortality – by as much as 33%.
Benefits for the mom or birthing parent
Reduces stress levels in parent and baby: Research has documented measurably lower stress levels after just 1 hour of skin-to-skin care.
Imprinting: the first few minutes of a baby’s life establish the bond between mother and child. This happens because oxytocin, “the feel-good hormone,” is released due to birthing and helps with bonding with the baby.
Allows milk to let down: a relaxed mother can better feed her child because the breast will be stimulated to “let down” milk through the hormone prolactin.
How can I incorporate the golden hour into my birth plan?
Even though this is becoming standard of care, I always recommend clarifying your wishes surrounding the golden hour on your birth plan.
Need a birth plan template? This birth plan is editable for your preferences for both vaginal and cesarean births.
Talk with your provider about it during one of your appointments before birth, and ensure the labor and delivery staff know when you arrive at the hospital.
Post-birth plan tips to help ensure the Golden Hour
Ask that if the baby seems immediately stable, have drying, suctioning, and stimulation done on your chest if possible. Safety is always a priority, so if the baby is not stable, it may need to go to the warmer for further evaluation.
Ask for 1-minute and 5-minute APGAR scores to be done while the baby is skin-to-skin.
Ask that all newborn care procedures like vitamin K shot or eye drops be delayed to promote an uninterrupted first hour.
Ask that visitors be kept out of the room for the first hour and that only vital members of the birth team be present to help deliver your placenta, monitor your bleeding after birth, etc.
Ask that the room feel calm and quiet during the first hour after birth.
Ask the family not to enter the room until you have attempted breastfeeding.
If you have a planned c-section, discuss your wishes for immediate skin-to-skin in the operating room. You can also ask your partner to be part of the skin-to-skin process.
Advocate for yourself
There are times when the golden hour can not happen if there are birth complications for the mother or baby. But setting expectations through a birth plan with the delivery staff will make a calmer and happier birth experience for everyone.
You can consider hiring a doula or support person to help you advocate for your golden hour if needed. You got this.
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Dr. Jennifer Roelands is an integrative medicine trained OB/GYN with over a decade of women's health experience. She is the CEO and founder of Well Woman MD, a clinic dedicated to a holistic, whole-body approach to care by using nutrition, lifestyle, and cutting-edge testing. She is also the host of Ignite Your PowHer podcast, a platform for badass female entrepreneurs in the health and wellness industry. Dr. Jen is an avid outdoor enthusiast and traveler. But most importantly, she is the go-to math guru for her 4 energetic kids.