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The golden hour after birth: magic minutes for you and your baby

Imagine you’ve been safely tucked up in a warm, dark womb for nine months when suddenly you’re propelled into a bright, loud world. How terrifying! Fortunately, research has shown that adopting some specific bonding activities soon after giving birth can help both mum and baby navigate this new chapter of life together.

Read on for everything you need to know to nail the golden hour…

What is the golden hour?

The golden hour refers to the first sixty minutes or so immediately after your baby is born. Those first few minutes and hours are considered to be a critical time for you and your baby. The purpose of the golden hour is to set the stage for a positive start to your baby’s life and contribute to their long-term health and development. The main aims are to deliver immediate post-birth care, facilitate mum and baby bonding, and establish early breastfeeding.

Why is it for an hour?

Whilst the term golden hour is used by midwives and medical teams, it’s not a strict time limit of 60 minutes. The duration of the golden hour can vary depending on the circumstances and individual needs of you and your baby.

An hour is general rule-of-thumb because the immediate period after birth is a critical time for your baby’s transition from the womb to the outside world. The first hour is also an important time for medical professionals to assess and monitor both you and your baby’s well-being after birth. Completing these procedures within the first hour allows for early detection of any potential issues.

What happens during the golden hour?

The golden hour is an important period for monitoring the wellbeing of both baby and mum after birth. It’s also a major time of transition and adjustment, especially for baby coming into a very big and scary world. There are three key activities that are promoted during this tine:

  • Skin-to-skin contact: Immediate skin-to-skin contact between the baby and the mother is encouraged during the golden hour. This involves baby being placed on your bare chest for some cosy cuddles. And don’t forget, dads can do it too!
  • Breastfeeding attempts: The golden hour is an optimal time for starting breastfeeding. When the baby is placed on mum’s chest, they are more likely to instinctively start searching for the breast and may begin breastfeeding. This phenomenon is also known as “the breast crawl“.
  • Newborn assessments: Your midwife will perform any necessary assessments and interventions during the golden hour, such as checking the baby’s vital signs, administering a vitamin K injection (if you consent) and conducting initial newborn screenings. These procedures are typically carried out whilst also prioritising the importance of mother-baby bonding.

Why is the golden hour important?

While you may not feel like you’re actually doing a lot in the first few minutes and hours after giving birth, there are actually a lot of important things happening for both you and baby.

The immediate skin-to-skin contact supports bonding between mum and baby. The special, uninterrupted time allows for parents to talk, touch, and cuddle the baby, which helps to establish a connection and provide a sense of security. This gentle approach allows the baby to transition from the womb to the outside world in a calm and supportive environment. It provides a kinder introduction to the world which helps the baby adjust gradually.

The skin-to-skin approach also helps to regulate both mum and baby’s emotional state after the birth. The warmth and comfort provided by a mother’s body to her baby promotes physiological stability and reduces stress for the newborn. Skin-to-skin cuddles also help to regulate the baby’s body temperature, heart rate, and breathing.

If early breastfeeding can be established during the golden hour, milk production can be stimulated and provide baby with colostrum. Colostrum is also known as “liquid gold” because it is so is rich in antibodies and essential nutrients, which serve to support baby’s immune system.

Who can be present during the golden hour?

It’s entirely your choice who you want to be present during the golden hour. The people who can attend will also depend on where and when you give birth. However, there are some key (and kind of obvious) people who will need to be there for the duration:

  • You: The mother is typically an active participant during the golden hour. You can hold the baby skin-to-skin, provide warmth and comfort, initiate breastfeeding if desired, and bond with your new little bundle of joy.
  • Father/Partner: The presence of the father or partner is encouraged during the golden hour. They can offer emotional support to the mum, participate in skin-to-skin contact with the baby if desired, and assist with any necessary tasks.
  • Healthcare Providers: The healthcare team, including doctors, midwives, or nurses, will be present to provide medical care and support during the golden hour. They may assess the baby’s vital signs, conduct initial newborn screenings, administer medications if necessary, and offer guidance on breastfeeding and postpartum care.
  • Doula or Birth Support Person: Some families choose to have a doula or birth support person present during the birth and the golden hour. Doulas can provide physical, emotional, and informational support to both the mother and the partner, helping them navigate the early postpartum period.
  • Other Family Members: Depending on your family’s preferences, other family members, such as grandparents or siblings, may be present during the golden hour to share in the joy of welcoming the newborn. They can provide support and witness the bonding process.

Ultimately, the individuals present during the golden hour should be determined by your preferences and any specific circumstances surrounding the birth. But remember to share your wishes and desires to your midwife and birth team to ensure that your experience aligns with your expectations.

Will my baby be harmed if the golden hour doesn’t happen?

Very few things about birth are predictable and a lot of things are out of your control. The overriding factor in every birth is the health and well-being of you and your baby. If yours or baby’s health is at risk and needs immediate medical attention, that will always be the priority of your midwife and the wider medical team.

But rest assured that if circumstances mean you can’t experience the golden hour, your baby will not be harmed. You will still have plenty of opportunities for bonding and establishing breastfeeding (if you choose to breastfeed) later on. Many hospitals recognise the importance of early skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding and will support these efforts as soon as it’s possible for you to do.

If you have concerns or specific circumstances that may affect your ability to have the golden hour, it’s always best to discuss them with your midwife in advance. They can provide guidance and help create a plan that meets the needs of both you and your baby based on the specific situation.

Sources:

https://www.medway.nhs.uk/downloads/services/maternity/The%20Birth%20Place%20-%20Information%20booklet.pdf

https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/qs105/chapter/quality-statement-7-skin-to-skin-contact#rationale-6

Birthbabe does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The resources on our website are provided for informational purposes only. You should always consult with a healthcare professional regarding any medical diagnoses or treatment options.

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