Whenever I’m helping mamas get educated and prepped for their upcoming births, I always want to put the golden hour after birth on their radar. This is because an uninterrupted first hour of life is actually filled with evidence-based benefits for both mama and baby!
Fortunately, more and more labor and delivery units around the country are making the golden hour after a birth standard care when safe. But knowing more about how beneficial it is can help you advocate for it in your birth plan and after baby’s delivery in the event that it doesn’t just happen.
Now, before we dive into exactly what it is, all of the amazing benefits, and how to include it in your birth plan, I want to give a BIG disclaimer.
The benefits of the golden hour after birth are only worth it if it’s safe for mom and baby! If for some reason you’re not able to have an uninterrupted hour due to your or baby’s stability – IT’S OKAY! Seriously. No guilt here. Safety and stability are the TOP priority, always.
Now with that in mind, let’s learn all about the golden hour after birth.
What is the golden hour after birth?
In short, the golden hour is the first 1 to 2 hours of baby’s life! But more elaborately, it’s a very distinct and informative time frame because this is your baby’s first experience in the outside world.
This time frame has been deemed the golden hour, or magic hour because when it is spent skin-to-skin with mama, without interruption, so many evidence-based benefits occur!
Like I said in the introduction, the golden hour is becoming standard practice in most birth settings around the U.S. because the benefits are so undeniable. This means that your baby will be placed on you, skin-to-skin with just a light blanket to cover them.
This happens before you even deliver your placenta, so it is necessary to have your provider and L&D nurse on standby, but if they know that this hour is important to you, they should be as respectful as possible! Once the placenta is birthed, the cord is cut, and you and baby are both deemed stable, true ‘un-interruption’ can usually begin.
Keep in mind that having your L&D nurse, provider, or doula present can be helpful for assisting with your initial latch and breastfeeding (more on this below!).
Related Reading: What Happens with Mama Immediately After Pushing Out a Baby?
What are the benefits of the golden hour after birth?
- Regulates baby’s body functions: Research shows that skin-to-skin care after birth can stabilize cardiorespiratory systems, blood glucose levels, stress levels, body temperature, and promotes neuroregulation, too!
- Reduces stress levels in mama and baby: Research has documented measurably lower stress levels after just 1 hour of skin-to-skin care (source)
- Linked to better breastfeeding outcomes: When you’re able to do uninterrupted skin-to-skin, your baby will often self-initiate breastfeeding. So, if you plan to breastfeed, skin-to-skin care is a wonderful way to get started on the right foot. And some research indicates an association between breastfeeding in the first hour and greater breastfeeding success
- Boosts baby’s immune system: While practicing skin-to-skin, your baby’s immune system is being taught about good and bad bacteria from your body. It sort of jumpstarts their immune system! (source)
- Promotes bonding: Spending time skin-to-skin with your baby can promote immediate bonding with your new baby because oxytocin (those feel-good hormones!) surges in mama and baby (source)
- Lower infant mortality rates: Studies suggest that when breastfeeding occurs within an hour of birth, there is a reduced risk of infant mortality – by as much as 33% (source)
Stages of the golden hour
This first hour of your baby’s life has been highly studied, and it’s fascinating that most babies will demonstrate the same 9 distinct stages!
Each stage can vary in length, but you’ll see estimations in each description below:
- The birth cry: This is the first scream baby makes immediately after being born. This first scream is important because it fills baby’s lungs with air!
- Relaxation: Next, baby is placed on mama’s stomach/chest, skin-to-skin. Baby is usually in a period of total relaxation where no mouth or hand movements are taking place
- Awakening: Then, at about 3-5 minutes after birth, your baby will start to move their head, open their eyes, and begin opening and closing their mouth
- Activity: Here, your newborn will be actively moving their mouth with suckling and rooting motions
- Rest: It’s typical to see periods of rest after any moments of activity during the first few hours after birth – the outside world is exhausting!
- Breast crawl: You will see your baby ‘crawl’ toward your breast during periods of movement and activity to help them reach the nipple. I know this sounds crazy, but I’ve seen it time and time again! Go YouTube breast crawl, and your mind will be blown. You can expect this to happen about 35 minutes after birth
- Familiarization: During this stage, your baby will be taking in your smell, licking and mouthing your nipple and breast, and feeling your body to become familiar with you
- Suckling: Your baby will self-initiate latching onto your nipple and suckling. This will be baby’s first experience breastfeeding! When this happens, ask your nurse to come look at baby’s latch. Even though they’ll often initiate on their own, you may need to widen their latch or splay their lips out to help them a bit
- Sleep: After going through these stages, usually at 1-2 hours after birth, your baby will fall into a deep and restful sleep – and hopefully you can get some sleep too!
Related Reading: How to Make the Most Out of Your Hospital Stay After Birth
How to incorporate this into my birth plan?
Even though this is becoming standard of care, I always recommend making your wishes surrounding the golden hour clear on your birth plan and talking with your provider about it during one of your appointments before birth.
Here are some ways that you can indicate in your birth wishes that this is important to you:
- Ask that if baby seems immediately stable, have drying, suctioning, and stimulation done on your chest if possible. In some cases, baby will have to be taken to the warmer briefly for suctioning and stimulation, but most of the time they can go directly on you!
- Ask for 1 minute and 5 minute APGAR scores to be given while you’re engaging in immediate skin-to-skin if possible
- Ask that all newborn care procedures be delayed to promote an uninterrupted first hour
- Ask that visitors be kept out of the room for the first hour, and that only vital members of the birth team be present to help deliver your placenta, monitor your bleeding after birth, etc.
- Ask that the room feel calm and quiet during the first hour after birth
- If you are having a planned C-section, discuss your wishes for immediate skin-to-skin in the OR and as much of a golden hour as possible. It can often be accommodated! This is part of the growing movement of gentle C-sections – read more here
Free birth plan template
Soak it up, mama!
I know that the golden hour isn’t always possible, but if it is for you – soak it up, mama! You’ve been waiting 9 months for this.
And I can’t urge you enough to make this a priority on your birth plan. In the event that you aren’t stable, your partner can step in and practice immediate skin-to-skin! There are still lots of benefits 😊