When Ashley Nichols was having her second child, Isabelle, she knew she wanted time alone with her immediately after birth. She asked the midwife to simply leave the two of them alone.
“She was right onto my chest. I almost kind of grabbed for her. They did not cut the cord immediately. They did not take her to clean her up. I just wanted to hold her. She was on me for a very long time,” Nichols, 32, an administrator of pediatric psychologists in Kansas City, Missouri, told TODAY Parents. “I just cried tears of joy, telling her how pretty she was. I was very very happy.”
This experience with Isabelle, now 6, differed from when Nichols first gave birth to son, Gabriel, who had struggled to breathe. Doctors whisked him away to monitoring him and give him oxygen.
“I didn’t hold him until the next day. We definitely did not (first) breastfeed for more than 24 hours,” she said. “I breastfed him for four weeks tops. It was a struggle.”
Nichols even wonders if her problems with breastfeeding Gabriel, now 9, were related to not spending his first hour with her.
Experts believe the first 60 minutes after birth, what’s known as the “golden hour,” are important for skin-to-skin contact, mother and baby bonding, and successful breastfeeding. They recommend as little medical intervention in that time as possible. Baby friendly hospitals — a World Health Organization and UNICEF joint designated program that promotes healthy breastfeeding — are ones that do little to nothing to baby in that hour, which improves outcomes for baby and moms, explained Becky Crawford, a postpartum manager at Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
“We create a culture that is supportive of breastfeeding,” she told TODAY Parents. “We do delayed cord clamping and place baby skin-to-skin for at least an hour. We delay all non-essential tasks and do all the monitoring when the baby is on the mom’s abdomen.”
Skin-to-skin contact provides real health benefits. It reduces both mom and baby’s stress levels and helps regulates the baby’s body temperature and slows bleeding in mom, she said. And it increases chances of successful breastfeeding.
“We put a warm blanket over (them) and the mom gets time to take it all in,” Crawford explained. “Moms love it. You just did all this work. This is your reward, just enjoying your baby.”
When Maria Nicole Smith delivered her daughter, she wanted skin-to-skin contact as soon as possible. After nurses cleaned off her daughter, Imena, she spent a little less than an hour with her daughter. But she still felt it was special.
“We did have a lot of time together,” the 32-year-old vice president at the National Urban League told TODAY Parents. “I remember feeling extremely proud of myself.”
Imena, now 3, latched immediately to breastfeed but Smith felt she struggled to understand positioning and making sure she had enough milk. But she soon figured it out.
“She nursed and fell asleep and I was like ‘I guess she’s satisfied,’” Smith said. “The most important thing for me in the golden hour was the relief I felt when she latched … A lot of the bonding for me came through the experience of nursing.”
Meg Miller had a scheduled cesarean-section, which meant she did not get to spend time with her daughter Ava right after she was born. Yet she still felt their first time with skin-to-skin contact was magical.
“I didn’t get to put her to my chest until maybe like an hour later,” the 40-year-old owner of a dog boarding and grooming business in Blairsville, Pennsylvania, told TODAY Parents. “It was mind-blowingly amazing.”
Even with the delay, Miller said Ava, now 6, fumbled a little with latching but eventually took to it.
“They put her straight to my breast and it was pretty wonderful. It wasn’t immediate,” she explained. “It was a little bit tough. It got better.”