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The Golden Hour: Why It’s Vital to Breastfeed Your Baby in the First Hour

Welcoming a newborn into the world is a magical moment. From the first breath to the first cries. It’s a time of joy, and, most importantly, the first opportunity to nurture your baby. During my consultations, one of the first questions I ask mothers is if they managed to practice uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact after giving birth. If the answer is yes, then my second question usually pertains to whether their baby was breastfed without any assistance within one hour of birth.  

Imagine my surprise when almost 70% of the mothers said that they couldn’t do skin-to-skin contact straight away or, if they did, it was for less than an hour. But that’s not all; the worst part of this percentage that managed to do skin-to-skin, is that only 25% breastfed their babies within an hour, and a mere 10% of those babies managed to do it unassisted. These numbers are the sad reality. Babies instinctively know what to do, but we often don’t give them the chance due to a lack of time. I understand that hospitals are often busy and aim for quick turnovers, but I believe every mother and, specially, every baby deserve the best possible first hours of their lives. 

In this blog, we’ll delve into what the golden hour is, why it’s critically important to breastfeed within the first hour after birth, and, as usual, I’ll share my top 5 tips for a great start.

What is The Golden Hour?

The golden hour is a term used in the realm of childbirth and infant care to describe the initial 60 minutes after a baby is born. This hour is a unique and profoundly special window of time for you and your baby to get to know each other. During this period, immediate and uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact between a mother and her newborn is recommended, with one of the most crucial aspects being the initiation of breastfeeding.

Best practice recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO) suggest that early and timely breastfeeding in the first hour of life can have profound benefits for both mother and baby. This means that as soon as your baby is born, if all is well, your bare baby will be placed on your bare chest or tummy to begin this uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact.

Why is it So Important to Breastfeed Your Baby Within the First Hour?

Extensive early skin-to-skin contact increases the duration of any and exclusive breastfeeding. Delaying procedures such as weighting, measuring, hearing tests, administering eye prophylaxis, and vitamin K for up to 6 hours after birth enhances early mother-infant interaction. 

When babies are placed on your chest, tummy-to-tummy, this skin-to-skin contact promotes bonding and milk supply. It is recommended for at least the first hour, but it’s even better if it can extend to around 2h. The longer the duration, the more benefits for both of you. 

During this time, most newborns are able to crawl to find the breast and latch with little to no help. Babies are ready to breastfeed; we just need to give them enough time and space to do it by themselves. They are born with a hormone called noradrenaline that keeps them awake. This is why it’s essential not to miss this awake window for breastfeeding before they enter a deep sleep for several hours. 

My Top 5 Tips for a Great Start

1. Immediate skin-to-skin contact: Make it a part of your birth plan and inform the professionals that you want your baby placed on you immediately for uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact, allowing other procedures to wait. 

2. Apgar test on your chest or tummy: Apgar score is a simple test to quickly and summarily assess the health of newborn babies immediately after the birth. Some professional still tend to do this test placing the babies on the cot, it’s unnecessary to move the baby to a cot for this purpose. So, request that the Apgar test be conducted with your baby on your chest or tummy. Again, write it down in your breastfeeding plan and tell the professional in advance. 

3. Minimise interference: When your baby is placed on your chest or tummy, allow your baby to find the breast, latch, and initiate breastfeeding on their own. While it might be tempting to assist, it’s recommended to let them do it themselves. You can talk to your baby, stroke them, or provide support to prevent them from falling off to the sides. 

4. Avoid rushing: Your baby needs time to adapt to the world outside your womb. Allow them to breathe on their own and recognise you through smell, touch, and your familiar voice. This will create a sense of comfort and security for them. You’ll notice that they will begin moving and crawling toward your breast using their legs. Later on, they will slowly wiggle their way over to your breast and start to lick and open their mouth when they find your nipple and areola. It’s worth noting that the areola darkens during pregnancy to help guide them to the correct latch point. 

5. Mother-baby bonding: The golden hour isn’t just about nourishment; it’s also about connection. Skin-to-skin contact during breastfeeding triggers the release of oxytocin, often called “the love hormone”. This hormone enhances the emotional bond between you and your baby, promoting feelings of closeness and love. 

In conclusion, the golden hour is an incredibly precious time, and initiating breastfeeding during this hour is a practice that can significant impact your baby’s well-being. That’s why it’s important to consult an IBCLC qualified lactation consultant to individualise your case and create the best breastfeeding plan for you. It’s a magical time for a reason, and the benefits are immeasurable.

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