There is something about seeing a mom hold her baby for the first time that never gets old. Everything about that moment, from the way she's cuddling her baby, to seeing her stroke his or her head -- you just know she wants to do what's best for her baby.
As a nurse and through my work with the Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN), I have been very fortunate to meet moms and babies all over the world. Most recently, on a trip side by side with JOHNSON"S®, I traveled to China and India, where I learned more about their people's customs and practices, including how women touch and hold their babies.
Many AWHONN nurses have spent their careers observing the impact of that very moment, how that powerful interaction of skin-to-skin contact benefits babies in more ways than we think. How even the simplest of interactions during the first moments of life are an opportunity to shape a baby's overall health.
Why is touch so vitally important? Touch is one of the first senses to develop while the baby is still in the womb (between 7-8 weeks gestation). From their earliest weeks, babies depend on touch for exploring their world. Touch is so important that some consider skin to be the external nervous system.
Fast forward to the first 25-120 minutes after birth: mom and baby relax skin-to-skin (also known as "Kangaroo Care") to explore the multiple benefits of this type of touch. In full-term infants, skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth improves early breastfeeding, helps the baby breathe and hold his temperature more easily, and leads to less crying during procedures. The benefits are even greater for preterm and vulnerable hospitalized infants.
Moms want to know: Can I hold my baby skin-to-skin after cesarean birth? Should my partner hold my baby skin-to-skin? Yes; both are possible and important! AWHONN nurses get a lot of questions from new moms, especially when we talk to them about the benefits of touch. Here are a few tips we typically offer moms to increase opportunities for skin-to-skin contact and bonding after they leave the hospital:
- Take time during the day, especially after feeding, to simply hold your bare baby to your bare chest for a few minutes or longer; your partner can do the same.
- If you are breastfeeding your baby, he or she is already skin-to-skin and enjoying those benefits and more. If you are bottle-feeding, hold your bare baby close to your bare chest.
- After bath time, get in as many cuddles as you can! Even short periods of skin-to-skin contact are beneficial.
Learn more about the importance of skin-to-skin contact after birth and watch nurse experts discuss the importance of skin-to-skin touch at www.health4mom.org.
And remember, the next time you see a mom or dad cuddling their baby skin-to-skin, know this act of love means so much more to the baby's development and can have a lasting impact.
Editor's Note: Johnson & Johnson is a sponsor of The Huffington Post's Global Motherhood section.