Imagine going on a journey to meet a special person. Leaving your warm, safe home environment, you begin your travels being compelled by unseen forces and cooperating with them, twisting, turning, flexing. You arrive at your destination into a new world with foreign sights and sounds, but all respectful, hushed and reverent. They were awaiting your arrival! Placed on a strange yet familiar chest, you smell and wiggle your way to a most welcome resting spot. You open your eyes to the most beautiful sight. A face more beautiful than you could have imagined. And so begins your earthside life. In a golden hour of love.
What is the Golden Hour
The Golden Hour is the period of time immediately following the birth of the baby that promotes bonding and breastfeeding. Although it is typically referred to as an hour, it can be anywhere from 1-3 hours, depending on the birth setting. It is a set of protocols based on evidence that shows that delaying the necessary assessments and procedures to allow mom and baby to have uninterrupted skin to skin time, physiologically and emotionally stabilizes baby. Even in a Cesarean section, this can be accommodated during the surgery process. In all of nature it is a biological norm, but with the introduction of "labor management", it almost became extinct.
Benefits of the Golden Hour
There are many reasons to promote, protect and advocate for the Golden Hour. Evidence shows that when mom and baby have uninterrupted time to bond skin to skin, baby's oxygen levels go up. In the brief transition from baby receiving oxygen solely through the umbilical cord and breathing with their own lungs, baby being place immediately and directly on mother's chest helps to stabilize oxygen saturation levels. Additionally, the perfect warmth of mother's breast brings baby's body temperature up quickly and efficiently. Amazingly, skin to skin also stabilizes blood glucose levels, colonizes the immune system with mother's good bacteria and most importantly, fosters successful breastfeeding. Statistically, if initial breastfeeding attempts are successful, it is continued.
When a newborn is put on mom tummy to tummy, the baby will actually army crawl to mom's breast unassisted. This incredible instinctual shuffle occurs as baby uses its sense of smell and touch. The mother's breast actually secretes a fluid that smells like amniotic fluid, a familiar and welcome scent to baby. As baby's body is in full contact with mom, the sense of touch is awakened, helping baby along.
Promoting and Guarding the Golden Hour
Depending on the setting, a mother will ideally have a birth space that respects the Golden Hour. This means a quiet, peaceful environment with dim lights, and baby directly skin to skin with full-body contact on mom (no blankets or towels between their bodies). If baby's Apgar score is 7 or above, then all assessments and procedures are delayed with necessary ones done in mom's arms. Time, time, time and space is given for baby to find mom's breast and initiate breastfeeding without force or pressure. Dad is there to share this time with mother and baby, adding to the love and gratitude of this moment in time. During a C-section, Dad or a support person (doula or family member) can help hold baby directly on mom to assist her.
Increasingly, hospital protocols and L& D nurses in hospitals are facilitating immediate skin to skin time between mom and baby. Home births and birthing centers are less driven by the techno-medical model and are experts in creating the Golden Hour environment.
Doulas know how to help guard the Golden Hour for parents. Many a time I have tiptoed around the magic of this moment, dimming lights, shooing out visitors, providing water and fluffing pillows to be a watchman for a couple basking in the joy and gratitude of meeting their baby.
The Golden Hour shouldn't be a fairy tale. Being informed, surrounding yourself with support and finding out what your birth setting's protocol is for the immediate postpartum time can ensure you partake in this important and magical time.