Did you know that postpartum baby bonding can have miraculous effects on the baby? A simple act of skin-to-skin contact with the mother can make the baby feel secured and loved! The baby’s first impression of his surroundings has the power to influence his emotional and physical state for years to come. 

Did you know that the medical fraternity is very well aware of the importance of mother-baby bonding after birth? Were you asked to spend exclusive time with your newborn baby during the Golden Hour?

This Sunday, Divya Deswal of MyChildFirst opened our eyes to the existence of Golden Hour and how this simple act can provide emotional and physical security for the newborn baby. She spoke about baby blues, postpartum depression, its effects on the new mom and the baby, bonding and attachment, the golden hour – and the science behind it all.

Here is a quick synopsis of the talk on postpartum baby bonding: 

How is bonding a pathway to attachment?

The instinct to bond arises in our body through the neuro-biological process. We are hardwired for certain behaviors and are attracted to certain things. In response to this, we produce body chemicals that change and alter our behavior. 

Bonding is the imperative of the parent to get close to the child, and that behavior is coded in the mother so that the little infant will always have her to survive. Bonding is the behavior of the mother, which is driven by hormones and sensory perception. It could be the cry of the baby, the smell of the baby, or just looking at the baby. If a mother smells her babies right after birth, she can identify her baby from other babies just by the smell. 

Bonding behavior comes from oxytocin. Care-taking behavior comes from prolactin. Mother and the baby have been primed and optimized for their experience. It all begins with the skin-to-skin touch post-delivery. 

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The Golden Hour

The golden hour is the first hour after a baby is born. The baby is primed to receive during this time. If he is put on the mother’s bare chest immediately post-delivery, the baby is cushioned by familiarity. The baby may cry, but he doesn’t feel alone or vulnerable when he is in skin-to-skin contact with his mother. From the moment of birth, the baby is seeking that connection. Nature has given a mother the ability to connect, and proximity is an essential part of it. 

The baby’s first impression

Babies come into the world with a clean slate. How they are received and treated immediately post-birth leaves an indelible impression on them. In the first one hour post-birth, the baby is primed to receive. This is the ideal time for mother-baby bonding. The baby’s receptivity goes down in the next hour. This is why it is called the golden hour.

Why should mother and baby be in skin-to-skin contact?

Immediately post-delivery, the parameters such as the baby’s lung function, heart rate, blood sugar, and temperature are observed. Research says if you put the mother and baby together, all these parameters will balance out much faster. The mother’s heartbeat will regulate the baby’s heartbeat, the sense of safety will improve his breathing, and if he is not anxious, his blood sugar will not drop as much. There is a thermostat in the mother that helps regulate the baby’s body temperature. The golden hour is multi-faceted. 

How does the Golden Hour have a positive impact on the baby?

  • Inside the womb, oxygen comes from the umbilical cord; outside, the baby has to breathe.
  • Inside the womb, the heart functions bypassing the lungs; outside, it has to connect to the lungs.
  • Inside the womb, the temperature is constant because of the amniotic fluid; outside, the temperature varies.
  • Inside the womb, metabolic needs are met instantly because there is a constant flow of nutrition to the baby; outside, it’s very different. 

An infant can make these transitions when he feels safe. These transitions become difficult for the baby when he is in a defensive mode.

Does the Medical Community know about the significance of the Golden Hour?

The medical community acknowledges that mother and baby should not be separated post-birth. The National Health Missions guidelines for Neonatal care clearly emphasize that there should be no separation post-birth. The government hospitals have clear directives of no separation. The law stands by us, but we are not aware. 

What is the role of the father at this stage?

When the baby is with the mother, the father can be embracing that unit. The father can play the role of the protector and provider to make sure that it is a sacred space for them. Skin to skin can involve the father but not necessarily in the beginning. The parents don’t have to compete for the same job but add a layer of protection for their vulnerable baby.

The father’s role starts at the prenatal stage – thinking about the baby as a person, talking to the baby, touching the belly, playing with the baby, etc. This is where the bonding starts. The father can take on any role that he is comfortable with. When the father is in skin-to-skin contact with the baby, he needs to let his physiology respond to that child’s movements. Fathers who have spent 15 minutes in skin-to-skin contact in the first period devote a lot of time in the first three months with the baby. They tend to show a lot of caregiving behavior. 

Explaining Baby Blues

After birth, the mother’s body goes through a big change, including withdrawal of hormones that were steady for nine months. There is a period of readjustment where there are mood swings and crying, and a sense of overwhelm – this may be ‘baby blues.’ Prolactin and oxytocin hormones are mood boosters and are protective towards depression. When the body’s hormones settle, breastfeeding gets established. Women who are struggling with breastfeeding, who have had a (medical) intervention, and those who don’t have a supportive environment – have moved from this natural state to a state of defense. 

What happens if you were not active during the golden hour?

Divya says, think of it as if you have taken the wrong turn. So you need more time and energy to reach the same place of bonding. Separation causes a break in the birthing sequence. Mother and child can work on their bonding, and the process of repairing this bond depends on the age of the baby. 

If the baby is small, then skin-to-skin contact is necessary. Toddlers have a peculiar way of moving if they are stuck in a sequence. So we need to help them complete it. A lot of free play can lead to repair. Naming and addressing the problem, listening to the child, hearing how he feels, and consistent care are all ways of bridging the gap of the birthing sequence. 

Postpartum Depression

PPD affects breastfeeding. Your mental state affects the regulation of the baby’s nervous system. Divya Deswal further talks about the symptoms of PPD, sensitizing family members about this subject and how the mother can remain active at this stage.  It all boils down to nurturing the woman during and after pregnancy. 

PPD can have long-lasting effects. If it goes undiagnosed, it may show its scars in one form or another. It’s always advisable to seek professional help. 

Did You Know?

Babies have separation anxiety that can translate into fussy behavior, long periods of sleep, digestive issues, etc. 

Photo by Jonathan Borba from Pexels