The Golden Hour After Birth And Why You Should Protect It At All Costs

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Why has the “golden hour after birth” become a popular buzz term, if you will? And why are hospitals scrambling to change the culture of their labor and delivery units to cater to this “new” trend?

I will tell you why. It’s because it’s the absolute best thing for you and your baby.

To understand the importance of this golden hour, you must understand what is happening in your little one … and why he needs you to be on his team advocating to make the transition to life on the outside a smooth one.

The birth of a newborn is a miraculous event.

I am one of the fortunate people who get to participate in birth, and I get paid. I mean, how cool is that?

Something I have come to realize is that many people are unaware of the miracle of a newborn. When I am sharing what happens in the baby at birth, I become overly passionate. I mean, like, hyped up!

It’s just so astounding that we go from a liquid life, receiving oxygen from the momma via the placenta, to breathing air within seconds.

Have you ever sat down and pondered that fact? Take a second and mull that over.

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Whether or not you believe in a higher power, you have to believe in the miracle of birth. I personally believe in God, and each birth I attend (which is many) is my own reminder that God is perfect.

What’s happening in the baby’s heart before birth…

The oxygenated blood flows from mom into the placenta. It then travels from the placenta, through the umbilical cord, to the baby’s liver. From there it moves through the ductus venosus, one of the three shunts in the fetal circulatory system. (A shunt is like a little passage that pushes the blood needing oxygen to a place that will supply it with some.)

The purpose of the three fetal shunts is to bypass the liver and the lungs. Both of which we need to live life on the outside, but not on the inside, of the womb.

The liver, which filters out the junk in our bodies, is not utilized yet.  The umbilical cord carries its waste products and carbon dioxide back to momma, who then gets rid of it.

The shunt that bypasses the lungs is called the foramen ovale. It moves blood through the heart from the right atrium to the left atrium.

What happens after birth …

At birth, we clamp the umbilical cord, and the baby is cut off from mom’s supply of oxygen and nutrients. The baby’s body begins its rapid transition.

With the first breaths of life, the lungs start to expand. As the lungs expand, the fluid inside the lungs is cleared out. The baby’s blood pressure increases and the pressure in the lungs decreases, causing the shunts to close.

The baby then begins to breathe air.

The change in the pressure also closes the Foramen Ovale, and — boom — the baby’s heart is pumping oxygenated blood throughout its body. The sweet baby no longer depends on mom for this process.

As a labor and delivery nurse, I wanted to lay the groundwork for what is happening inside the baby as it is born. It’s something to be aware of and so worthy of respect.

And it is essential to understanding why everyone in the birthing room should respect the process and allow it to unfold naturally.

All these wild things happen in the few moments after the first breath, and before you gaze into your baby’s eyes.

Thus begins the golden hour after birth, and no matter what, your child needs for you to defend it.

What happens next …

Everyone who knows me, knows that I am all about minimal interruptions in the natural process of labor and during the golden hour after birth.

Having a baby is not a hospital procedure; it’s birth, people. Birth is natural. You aren’t going in to get a gallbladder removed.

As if all the shunts and shutting isn’t astonishing enough, some amazing *BLEEP* happens after the baby is born.

Did you know that after the birth of a newborn, if placed immediately on the mother’s stomach, the baby can crawl up to the breast?

It is miraculous to watch.

I’m not sure why we think that humans, the only mammal capable of building empires, could not do something as simple as crawl to a food source, but most people doubt it. Maybe it’s because the majority of people have intervention after intervention in the labor room. And I’m sorry I have unwittingly been a part of that faux pas.

About the breast crawl …

Granted, the crawl isn’t immediate and quick. It’s like a long romance between mother and child. It usually occurs soon after birth. Like all other mammals, newborn babies use their senses to find the boob. The senses combined contribute to our instinct to survive outside the womb.

The olfactory (little nose), visual (little eyes), taste (little tongue), auditory (your voice), and touch (from them to you and you to them): all these things are vital to a successful golden hour after birth.

And guess who provides every one of these for the baby? YOU!

You are the one who brings all these components to the table. Your smell, your face, your voice, and your touch meets every one of this new little human’s needs.

About the sense of smell …

Let’s talk about the olfactory sense first; this is one of the most influential factors during the immediate skin to skin moments.

This study says that a mother’s hands getting involved in birth also lends to the success of skin to skin, and the breast crawl of the newborn. When momma gets her hands on the baby as it comes out, she also gets amniotic fluid on them as well.

The fluid then gets onto her stomach and breasts.

The baby is keen to follow that smell. However, they can also smell the natural “smell” of your breast and follow that as well. No clean boobies here ladies. Come on, we all know that sweaty breasts have a smell. And your baby likes it.

PRO TIP: Don’t wash your boob off immediately after birth. Especially during the “golden hour.”

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For the breast crawl, we put the baby directly on your abdomen. Left alone, the baby will smell your breast, then begin to do an army crawl up your body and find your nipple and latch on themselves. Hands-off and watch!

Labor nurses,  I know a few of you are reading this, and you are thinking, “This will take too long and interfere with my job.” But it’s not about us. That’s my mantra. I know we have a lot to chart, and even more to do, but we have to protect the golden hour after birth like the world depends upon it. We are the gatekeepers. We can make or break the newborn experience.

About the sense of sight …

What can your little sweetheart see? Babies can see objects if they are within 8-10 inches of their eyes. Babies prefer to look at a face.

A baby placed on his mother will find her face and gaze into her eyes. I wish I could describe this process adequately. I’m not sure I can put into words what I want everyone to hear about this gaze between a mother and her child. It’s too big for words.

Something magical happens between the two of them, and the rest of us fade into the blur of the room.

This past Sunday my pastor taught about the gaze of a mother on her child, and how the baby was intently gazing back because of the love in the mother’s eyes. But I would take it further and say that the infant is staring into the mother as intently as the mother is gazing into her, because the baby recognizes her as someone she knows.

This interlocking of gazes is a beautiful moment to behold. Each as intense as the other, an innate sense of knowing one another.

PRO TIP: Ask for your lights to be dimmed as soon as possible.

Lelia Milaya /Reshot

One of my most favorite things to do in my labor room is to quickly clean up mom’s bed, put everything back together, and dim the lights. The baby will almost immediately open those little eyes and look around.

Can you imagine coming out of a perfectly cozy, darkened closet into the bright lights of a delivery room? No, me either!

About the sense of sound …

The soothing sound of its mother’s voice, along with touch and smell,  is often enough to calm a startled newborn instantly. The mother’s voice is familiar and comforting, as the baby has listened to this particular sound for months.

Momma, start to murmur to your newborn as they lay skin to skin on top of you. Tell your child all the hopes and dreams you have for them. Assure her that all is well and that you are there.

PRO TIP: Protect your golden hour after birth by asking everyone to whisper and keep the room calm.

About the sense of touch …

The need for touch is met merely by being placed on top of you. Skin to skin and your hand (or dad’s hand) on the baby is soothing and comforting.

The warm feel of your skin and touch of your hand helps to transition the baby to this world. When I place a baby who is breathing fast onto mom, most of the time, they immediately begin to regulate their breathing and decrease the need for me to intervene. How cool is that?

Regarding visitors …

This one might sting a bit. Keep your labor room to yourself after delivery. It’s okay to even ask your birth coaches (other than the primary one) to head to the waiting room while you celebrate the golden hour after birth with your partner and your baby.

I promise it won’t kill Aunt Sally to see the baby at one hour and six minutes as opposed to immediately after birth. Those minutes are essential to your baby adjusting and to the success of the breastfeeding experience.

PRO TIP: Ask your labor nurse to be the bad guy. She can tell family and friends that she has to clean you and the room up. Inform them that someone will come out to get everyone after the nurse is finished. Then she can take, oh, say, an hour to clean up! 

This is a lot of info but so important — because I’m passionate about parents being able to take advantage of that precious “golden hour.” Your experience is up to you, so let your labor and delivery team know that you want to do these things after birth, and then watch the miracle unfold before your eyes.