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Keeping Baby Close PDF Print E-mail
Written by Laura Maxson LM   

 

Nature intends that a mother scoop up her wet, newly born baby, and hold it in her arms against her body. As she kisses, smells and caresses her baby, a myriad of responses are taking place and, as bonding begins, it’s best if everyone else does nothing.

 

At birth the umbilical cord is pulsing with fetal blood meant for the baby. Avoiding premature clamping of the cord permits physiologic cord closure while ensuring baby stays close to his mother.

 

Smell, taste, and touch are very important to both the mother and baby’s bonding process and their hormonal responses to birth. When a newborn is skin-to-skin in his mother’s arms, baby’s head is right there ready to be kissed. The mother’s body will automatically keep baby at the perfect temperature, providing easy access to touching, smelling, and nuzzling.

 

The amniotic fluid that bathes the baby at birth makes an important contribution to the bonding process. Just ask any mother about the smell of her just-born baby. There is an almost addictive quality to the sweet, clean smell. Babies, too, use the smell and taste of amniotic fluid to help them find the breast and begin feeding. Studies found that babies who have been bathed early on have a harder time finding the breast and latching on then unwashed babies.

 

Forget the hat. When a newborn baby is skin-to-skin, that all-important newborn baby fragrance wafts off the baby’s head in waves, just inviting kisses. And as a mother looks down on her tiny baby’s head, the soft whorls of hair encourage gentle stroking. Newborn babies do get cold easily when lying alone in a bassinet but instead of a hat, they would probably prefer a warm body to snuggle against.

 

Covered with a varying amount of vernix, a white cheese-like substance, newborn babies can look a bit messy at birth. The amount of vernix on the baby lessens as the he or she matures, so that a baby born at 37 weeks would likely be covered in vernix, while a 42 weeker might not have any visible vernix at all. But vernix is not a bit of muck to be wiped away. It protected baby’s skin from its watery home in the womb and aided in development of the gut when the baby swallowed bits of vernix mixed with amniotic fluid.

 

Parents are often quite surprised to find that within a few hours, their baby who was born slathered in vernix is now somehow rosy, pink, and clean as a whistle, while they have done nothing but snuggle. Vernix will have magically been absorbed into the baby’s skin, leaving just a few patches in the skin folds, to be gently rubbed in. The protective and healing qualities of vernix are underappreciated and can help the baby’s skin stay safe from infection.

 

Newborn babies covered with bodily fluids can be problematic for hospital workers, who will often need gloves until baby’s first bath. While the World Health Organization sets six hours as the minimum time for a newborn’s first bath, there is no reason to routinely bathe baby in the first few days.

 

A baby born by cesarean section is more vulnerable to being “cleaned up” before really spending time with mom. Instead of going straight to mother’s arms, a cesarean born baby will more often go to the warmer where he or she might be vigorously rubbed and dried completely, before being wrapped in layers of blankets.

 

More and more surgically born babies are moving to the mother’s chest while still in the operating room, even directly up, under the sterile drapes in some cases. But parents need to be vigilant. Busy nurses might offer to give the baby a quick bath while the mother is finishing up in surgery, before she gets back to her room. A parent who doesn’t realize the potential importance of an unwashed newborn might hand the baby off instead of keeping the baby skin-to-skin on his or her own body as they wait for mom. A warm, damp washcloth can spot clean a baby who needs a little blood removed, but save the bath for much later.

 

How many decades have we allowed hospitals to ignore nature’s intricate plan for bonding and breastfeeding? We couldn’t make a better system for falling in love with our babies if we tried. There is much that we don’t understand and so much harm we have done by failing to recognize nature’s blueprint. We don’t have to understand it; we just need to respect it. Anything routinely done that interferes with the physiologic transitions at birth is suspect. Parents choosing a homebirth have the most control. Other parents need to find hospitals and care providers who will join them in doing less, at a slower pace.

 

Laura Maxson, LM, CPM, the mother of three grown children, has been working with pregnant and breastfeeding women for over 20 years. Currently she is the executive director of Birth Network of Santa Cruz County and has a homebirth midwifery practice. Contact her at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 

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