The first hour after baby is born is often referred to as The Golden Hour.  When momma and baby are able to spend an undisturbed hour practicing skin-to-skin care after birth, the Golden Hour has a number of benefits for both mom and baby

This is a special time of bonding for mother and baby after the eternity that 9 months of pregnancy + labor can feel like. 

Just a few of the benefits of the Golden Hour after birth include baby-initiation of breastfeeding, lower infant mortality rates, regulation of body systems, boost to baby’s immune function, and a greater chance of breastfeeding success.

But the benefits of this precious time don’t stop there!  Read on to learn all about this magical time for you and your newborn baby.

What is The Golden Hour after birth?

The Golden Hour is the hour immediately following your baby’s birth.  This is an important time for uninterrupted, skin-to-skin bonding between momma and baby.  The Golden Hour should be prioritized over all other non-emergency procedures after birth.

In many cases, especially with home birth (but even in many hospitals today!), the Golden Hour is becoming standard practice.  There’s just too much evidence of the immense benefits to both mom and baby.

During the Golden Hour, your baby will be placed on your stomach, skin-to-skin with a light blanket to cover them.  At this point, you will not have delivered your placenta yet.  So it will be necessary for your midwife to remain with you to see that you birth the placenta safely. 

However, once the placenta is birthed and the cord is cut, you may request private time with your new baby during this special time, especially if you are birthing at home.  On the other hand, having your midwife or doula present can be a wonderful accompaniment because they can assist with your initial latch and breastfeed.

What are the benefits of The Golden Hour after birth?

1. Promotes momma and baby attachment

The first hour after birth is as special as it is for one specific reason: elevated levels of oxytocin.  This hormone surges during birth and crosses the placenta to the baby as well.  During skin-to-skin care, oxytocin continues to surge (source)

This super hormone is what’s responsible for creating a secure attachment right from birth.

2. Increases mother’s affective response to Baby

That hormone oxytocin is actually responsible for most of the benefits on this list.  Including this one.  Spending the golden hour without interruptions will help your affective response to baby. 

What’s more, research shows that if baby and momma are separated after birth or do not practice skin-to-skin, the mother may show “rougher handling of baby during feedings, and fewer maternal behaviors at 4 days, 1-4 months, and 12 months postpartum.” (source)

3. Regulates baby’s body functions

The Golden Hour is an important time for baby because it helps them regulate a variety of body functions. 

The benefits of the Golden Hour to baby’s body include:

  • Activating neuroprotective mechanisms
  • Enables early neurobehavioral self-regulation
  • Enhances cardio-respiratory stability
  • More stable blood glucose levels
  • Significant decrease of salivary cortisol levels (a biomarker for stress)
  • Decrease risk of neonatal hypothermia

4. Reduces stress for baby and momma

Because of the oxytocin surge that starts at birth and increases during the Golden Hour, both momma and baby benefits from significant stress reduction.  Research has shown that newborns have a significant decrease in salivary cortisol levels after 1 hour of skin-to-skin care.

Mom will also see a decrease in stress and an increase in “mothering feelings” as more and more oxytocin is released.  Momma’s brain also releases beta-endorphins which will help your brain associate pleasure with caring for your baby and will help calm you down. (source)

5. Greater breastfeeding success

During The Golden Hour, your baby will have the chance to self-initiate breastfeeding.  I remember being so shocked and amazed when my own newborn started rooting and ‘crawling’ on my body in search of my nipple.  It was a moment I will never forget!

By breastfeeding within the first hour after birth you are more likely to have success with exclusive breastfeeding and you reduce your baby’s risk of infant mortality by as much as 33%!

6. Boosts baby’s immune function

Another benefit of this special time is that your baby will benefit from your flora instead of that of the hospital.  Your baby’s immune system will begin to learn what bacteria is good vs. bad from your body.

Some research shows that if your baby isn’t given the chance to be exposed to your bacteria through vaginal birth or skin-to-skin care and breastfeeding, their immune system may never reach its full potential (source).

7. Helps deliver the placenta and contract your uterus

Yet another benefit of all that oxytocin is that it will help your body continue to have productive contractions.  This will allow your body to deliver the placenta efficiently and avoid issues like postpartum hemorrhage. 

Your body will immediately start getting your uterus back to its pre-pregnancy size with contractions.  During skin-to-skin time (and you’ll find out, any time you breastfeed baby) you’re likely to feel these contractions at work.

What are the 9 stages of The Golden Hour?

During the Golden Hour, this highly studied the first hour of your baby’s life, you will see your baby go through 9 distinct stages.  This time where baby is getting used to life outside of the womb is momentous for your little one, which is why so many ‘stages’ happen!

Just imagine blinking, breathing, smelling, hearing, and adjusting to the temperature of life outside of the womb for the first time. It’s truly incredible.

  1. The birth cry – this is the first scream baby makes immediately after being born.  You know, the one you see in all the movies.  This first scream is important because it fills baby’s lungs with air
  2. Relaxation – at this point (usually after baby is dried) baby will be placed on your stomach/chest, skin-to-skin.  They will be in a period of relaxation where no mouth or hand movements are taking place
  3. Awakening – during the awakening, usually 3-5 minutes after birth, your baby will start to move their head, open their eyes, and begin opening and closing their mouth
  4. Activity – in the activity stage, your newborn will be actively moving their mouth with suckling and rooting motions
  5. Rest – you can expect to see periods of rest after any moments of activity during the first few hours after birth
  6. Breast Crawl – you will see your baby ‘crawl’ and approach the breast periods of movement and activity to help them reach the nipple.  You can expect this to happen about 35 minutes after birth
  7. Familiarization — during this stage, your baby will be taking in your smell, licking and mouthing your nipple and body, and feeling your body to become familiar with you
  8. Suckling – your baby will self-initiate latching onto your nipple and suckling.  This will be baby’s first experience breastfeeding
  9. Sleep – after going through these stages, usually at 1-2 hours after birth, your baby will fall into a deep and restful sleep.  Birth and adjusting to life outside the womb are exhausting for your little one.  This is the time for you to get some sleep after an exhausting birth too, momma!

Enjoy The Golden Hour with your baby, Momma!

As you can see, The Golden Hour after birth is a truly magical and important time for you and your baby.  There are a variety of benefits to you both towards dedicating intentional time to this!

If you are planning a home birth, it will be the standard of care.  However, if you need to transfer to a hospital for any reason, you can still make sure The Golden Hour is a priority after your birth however it plays out. 

In the event of medical emergencies that might mean you are unable to engage in immediate skin-to-skin dad can make an excellent substitute.  Of course, the research does show that mom is best, but dad can certainly fill your shoes if you are medically unavailable. 

But in today’s hospitals, and with all of the positive research surrounding The Golden Hour, hospitals are prioritizing this special time in C-Section births and in other special circumstances to the best of their ability.

Working on your birth plan and want to make sure it emphasizes The Golden Hour?  Don’t miss our article all about Writing a Birth Plan for Your Home Birth!

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