skin to skin

Benefits of skin to skin

Why it’s important for everyone

Cry less.  Sleep better.  Two things every parent wishes for in their baby.  There is now so much research on the benefits of skin to skin for babies that it just can’t be ignored.  So just what do we mean by skin to skin?  What are the benefits?  And when and how should you do it?

 

The Golden Hour

The first hour after birth is often called the Golden Hour.  This is such a special time we will cover this in detail in a blog all of its own in coming months.  But first – skin to skin.

Immediately after birth, baby laid on Mum’s chest, with no clothing, blankets or towels in between.  Baby should be in a vertical position, and both Mum and baby covered with a blanket.  Ideally, you should be left like this for at least an hour.  Don’t worry if one or both of you drift off – that’s normal.

 

Skin to Skin Benefits

There are a huge number of benefits to skin to skin contact, particularly in that Golden Hour it:

  • Increases dopamine and oxytocin levels in mum and baby, calming and relaxing both of you and reducing the potential for postpartum depression
  • Helps regulate baby’s heartbeat and breathing, getting them acclimatised to life outside the womb
  • Regulates baby’s temperature
  • Transfers friendly bacteria from Mum to baby, providing increased immunity and protection against infection
  • Helps establish breastfeeding and bonding by stimulating hormone release

 

 

NeoNatal Skin to Skin – Kangaroo Care

For premmie babies Skin to Skin is even more important.  Skin to skin contact has been shown to:

  • Reduce the cortisol levels in both baby and mum
  • Improve oxygen levels in baby’s blood
  • Help with growth – so important in those tiny premmies
  • Help encourage pre-feeding reflexes that might be interrupted by the need for tube feeding
  • Improve Mum’s milk supply, which can drop when expressing to tube feed baby

If your baby is premmie, it may be difficult to manage the Golden Hour skin to skin, but even a few minutes can help.  If the doctor or nurse needs to take blood or do other tests, sometimes they can be done while in the skin to skin position.  If it’s really not possible, don’t worry – there will be time to catch up once baby is safely taken care of.

Once your baby is in the Neonatal ward it is a great idea to continue skin to skin.  This is known as ‘kangaroo care’, and it has been proved to improve the health outcomes for premmie babies in just about every area – from brain development, to better sleep patterns to stabilising organ function.  All these improvements lead to shorter hospital stays – and that’s great for both baby and parents.

 

Skin to Skin and Caesareans

It might be a bit trickier if you have had a Caesarean.  But it is even more important than for babies born vaginally.

During vaginal delivery the mother’s body passes on a whole host of good bacteria to the baby, which colonise in their gut and provide them with immunity and resistance to illness.  This doesn’t happen in a Caesarean.

So how do you go about taking advantage of that Golden hour after birth if you’re having a Caesarean?  Here are a couple of tips:

  1. Ask for the screen to be put up as far down body as possible, allowing you room to hold the baby on your chest afterwards
  2. Ask for any drips to go in your non-dominant hand so you are able to hold your baby securely
  3. There will be monitor leads attached to you to keep an eye on your vitals. Ask if they can be put on your back, rather than your chest, leaving you clear to hold your baby afterwards.
  4. Remember skin to skin means just that. If someone suggests putting a towel on your chest because baby is wet or messy, it won’t have the same effect – so feel free to say no to the towel.

 

How to Skin to Skin

Once you are past that ‘golden hour’ immediately after birth, you can skin to skin with your baby as often as you like – when baby is unsettled, or needs calming or comforting, or just because you want to.  And it’s as easy as sitting in a chair!

  • Prop yourself upright in a chair. Make sure you are supported and comfortable.  Once you get started you may be there a while!
  • Baby should be in a nappy only – or a beanie if it’s cold
  • Place baby on your naked chest in a vertical position
  • Support the baby with both hands and cover both of you with a blanket to keep you warm
  • If you want you can rock, sing or talk to baby. Whatever feels natural to you
  • Aim for around 30 minutes – but feel free to sit as long as you like! Don’t worry about the chores that aren’t getting done.  Nothing is more important than your bond with your baby!

 

And it’s not Just for Mums…

Not only is Skin to Skin not just about breast feeding, but it’s not just for Mums.  New research shows that skin to skin contact with Dad or partner can have just as many benefits for both Dad or partner and baby.

Skin to skin with Dad will provide baby with contact to all the bacteria on Dad’s skin – helping further with immunity.  But perhaps the most important factor is the bond that it creates.  This is not only good for baby – but good for Dad.  And Mum.

As with mum, skin to skin will decrease cortisol and increase dopamine and oxytocin in dad.  It will also reduce testosterone.  The effect of all this will be a decrease in anxiety, better bonding and, studies have shown, a more sensitive approach parenting.  Most importantly, it will increase Dad’s confidence – allowing him to support Mum more effectively.

 

Better Late than Never

If everything goes awry – or if you already have your baby and are just reading this – don’t despair.  With Skin to Skin, it is a case of better late than never.  You can start skin to skin contact at any time in your baby’s life and you will still see many of the benefits.  So, any time in the first few months of your baby’s life – get that skin to skin happening.

 

If you would like to talk about Skin to Skin, or any other aspect of pregnancy, birth and mothering, I would love to chat, so please:  

7 Reasons to Massage your Baby

7 Great Reasons to Massage Your Baby

If you’ve ever had a massage, you will know how good you feel afterward.  That is because massage has been shown to release a whole host of feel good hormones, and reduce the feel bad hormones in your body.  Well, the same goes for your baby!  Baby massage can help with a wide range of common concerns amongst parents, and lead not only to a happier healthier baby, but more relaxed parents as well.  So, what are some of the benefits?  And how do you go about massaging your baby effectively?

 

Benefits to Baby

Babies benefit enormously from massage – and by extension their parents do too!

  1. Sleep – not only will massage help settle your baby, but it will improve their quality – and quantity – of sleep, leading to a more rested baby and more rested parents!
  2. Relaxation – massage decreases cortisol (the stress hormone) and increases hormones like serotonin and oxytocin, which improve mood and create calm. And doesn’t everyone want a calm and relaxed baby?
  3. Digestion – many babies suffer from colic, wind, reflux or constipation. This is not only painful for them, but makes them unhappy.  Massage assists with the normal functioning of the digestive system and reduces the effects of all these problems.
  4. Immunity – research shows that immunity and overall physical wellbeing is improved with massage.
  5. Growth and Development – massage stimulates the communication between the right and left sides of the brain, which improves the co-ordination which is so important in learning to grasp, crawl and walk. It has also been shown to improve cognitive development.
  6. Congestion – specific massage techniques have been shown to reduce congestion in the sinus and lungs when baby has a cold, which of course helps them breathe more easily.
  7. Pain Relief – massage increases the production of endorphins, which have been shown to reduce the perception of pain, so when baby is teething, or in pain for any reason, massage can help give them some natural relief.
A word about Premmies

Premature babies often spend a lot of time in incubators.  Sadly, they often also have to undergo many tests and procedures that full-term babies don’t.  These tests can be uncomfortable and stressful for both baby and parents.

Along with Kangaroo Care – which we will go into in more detail in an upcoming blog on Skin to Skin – massage can have an enormously positive effect on premmie babies.  Not only can it help their little lungs and tummies function better, but research has shown it can help them increase in weight faster, leading to shorter hospital stays.

 

Benefits to Parents

If the benefit of a calm, relaxed baby who eats and sleeps well isn’t enough, there are also benefits to parents in baby massage.

Whether it is mum or dad doing the massage, both bonding and confidence are increased when they massage baby.  For mums, massage has been shown to reduce the likelihood of postnatal depression.  It seems that not only does receiving a massage increase feel good hormones, but giving one does too!

 

How do I Massage my baby?

Massage doesn’t just mean stroking or rubbing your baby’s arms and legs.  There are different techniques that can be used for different results.  So it is best to get proper training from a qualified Baby Massage practitioner.

 

What is the best time to massage my baby?

Once you have learned how to massage your baby, you can do so whenever you want or need to.  Some people like to have a schedule – others like to do it when they have time and feel the need.

Babies have a cycles of alertness, drowsiness and sleep. Ideally, you should massage your baby during their ‘Quiet Alert’ time.

 

Graph courtesy of Infant Massage Information Service

With very young babies – under 6 months – it is a good idea to avoid massage at bath time and immediately before bed time as it can overstimulate them.  But as they get older, a massage at bath time or before bed can be relaxing for both baby and parent.

 

One more thing…

It might be tempting to use essential oils in massaging your baby, but you need to be careful.  Babies have a very sensitive sense of smell, and being able to smell their parent, rather than lavender or lemon myrtle, will help with the bonding.  That being said, there are certain essential oils that will help if you are having trouble with sleep, pain or colic.  And of course, it needs to be edible – look for a cold pressed fruit, nut or seed oil.  Babies have a habit of putting hands and feet in their mouths, and if you are using a diluted essential oil take care to keep it off baby’s hands.  Your massage instructor will be able to give you advice on what oils are best to use and where to get them.

If you would like to learn how to massage your baby , I will be running baby massage classes, and one on one sessions and would love to teach you how.  Or if you would just like to chat about anything pregnancy, birth or postpartum related, just contact me 

Tearing – Prevention and Cure

One of the things that most concerns women when thinking about labour – apart from the contractions of course – is ‘tearing’.  This refers to the tearing of the perineum and is unfortunately often part of giving birth. But there are a number of things you can do to avoid, or at least reduce tearing.

What is the perineum?

The perineum is the muscular area between the vagina and the anus.  It supports the posterior (rear) wall of the vagina. During childbirth this area needs to soften and stretch to allow the head and shoulders of the baby to emerge safely.

Episiotomies

For many years it was common practice to perform an episiotomy, a cut in the perineum either directly towards the anus, or angled down and away to the side, to help make room for the baby and avoid ‘tearing’.  This is no longer standard practice unless there are real medical reasons as research has proved a natural tear carries less risks and heals better. These days episiotomies are only done if the baby is in distress and needs a quick delivery with forceps or vacuum, the cord is being crushed, or the labour has been very quick and the perineum has not had time to stretch at all.

How to Avoid Both

So how can you prepare your perineum for all the stretching it will have to do and hopefully avoid both tearing and an episiotomy?

Preparation is the key

In the later weeks of your pregnancy – from about 34 weeks on – you can start getting your perineum ready for birth.

Massage – daily massage will help relax and stretch the muscle.  Your doula can show you how this is done. You can use vitamin E oil, coconut oil, or Perineal Massage Oil from Blissful Herbs, which contains calendula, rosehip and lavender.

Balloon – some women find massage difficult, and there are now a couple of devices a bit like a balloon on the market that you can insert and inflate to gently stretch the muscles.  Your doula can let you know where to get these and how to use them.

Exercises – since your perineum is attached to the pelvic floor, the pelvic floor exercises you are probably already doing will help stretch this muscle.  Your doula can recommend additional exercises that will not only relax the tissues of the perineum, but also prepare your body to give birth in an upright position and fully stretch your pelvis.

Protecting your Perineum during Labour

OK – so you’ve done all your exercises and your massage and now you’re in labour.  What can you do to continue to protect your perineum?

Upright Birth – an upright position such as kneeling, squatting, standing or even on hands and knees will help the perineum begin to stretch early in labour by putting the pressure of the weight of the baby on the muscle.

Water Birth – a water birth has been shown to reduce the likelihood of tearing as it not only relaxes the perineal muscle, but relaxes the whole body and reduces anxiety.

Perineal Compress – holding warm damp towels against the area, especially during pushing and when the baby is crowning, not only relaxes the muscle but provides it a little extra support.

Baby’s Position – the optimum birth position for your baby is Occiput Anterior.  This means head down, facing mum’s spine. In this position the head is at the best angle to come through the birth canal and vagina.  If your baby is not in this position it is sometimes possible to ‘spin’ your baby. Your doula or midwife can give you advice on this.

Time – As long as neither you nor your baby are in distress, take your time.  Listen to your body. It will tell you when you need to push. When the baby is crowning – the head is coming out – you will probably feel what we call ‘the ring of fire’.  If you can, don’t rush this stage, as this is when you are most likely to tear. Allow the tissues time to stretch slowly.

Aftercare

If – despite all your best efforts – you ended up with a perineal tear or an episiotomy, there are a few things you need to know that will help reduce discomfort, and speed up healing.

Inflatable ring – as much as possible, try to sit on an inflatable ring to reduce pressure on the area.

Hygiene – keeping the area clean and dry is really important.  It may sting when you you go the toilet. If it does, pour warm water over the area to dilute the urine.  After a bath or shower use a hair dryer on the area, not a towel.

Cold packs – can help to reduce swelling.

Wound care – Blissful Herbs have a Soothing Salve and Post Natal Bliss Healing Bath Herbs that can help support the healing of the perineum and reduce pain.

Your doula can help you with ensuring your perineum is in top shape for delivery and help protect it during birth.  If you would like to talk about anything related to your pregnancy and birth plans or concerns, I would love to chat with you.

What is a Birthing Doula?

I am asked this question so often! Very few people know what a doula is, yet anyone who is having a baby, or thinking about having a baby, should know about the incredible benefits a doula can bring to the birthing experience, for mum, baby and partner.

Very simply, a birthing doula is a trained professional whose only role is to support pregnant women and their partners through late pregnancy, birth and beyond. A doula will do all she can to give you the confidence and comfort you need for a wonderful birthing experience.

The word doula comes from the Greek for ‘women’s servant or caregiver’. The term began to be used in the 1960’s meaning a friend providing comfort during labour. In recent times, it has begun to be used for a group of professionals who provide much needed support for parents and babies.

Why Doulas are important

All of us feel some trepidation as the time for the birth of our baby comes near, but for some women giving birth can be a very scary prospect. We have all heard stories from friends and relatives that make us wonder how things will go for us, or have had previous birthing experiences that fill us with dread or outright fear.

When we arrive at the hospital, we are generally greeted by midwives and nurses we don’t know. We sometimes know our doctor, but birthing can be a long process, and the doctor that you know and trust will generally only be there for the final act – delivery.

Until then you are taken care of by the midwives, who are highly trained professionals. They have responsibility for your medical welfare, But they also have responsibility for other birthing mothers, hospital protocols, and paperwork.

So, while the nurses, midwives and doctors are – very rightly – taking care of your medical needs, sometimes your emotional needs can be neglected. This is where your doula steps in.

Your doula has only one responsibility. And that is to you and your baby. She will be by your side the whole time, providing you with emotional and physical support, comfort and encouragement throughout the whole wonderful, scary, miraculous experience.

Pregnancy and Doulas

A doula will work with you before your labour to understand what type of birth you would ideally like to have. She will help you understand what your options are, and what some of the unfamiliar terms the medical team might use mean. She will not tell you how to approach your birth, or try to influence your decision on things like pain management or interventions, but she will certainly try to help avoid the need for them.
Your doula can give you advice on how to make the final weeks of your pregnancy as comfortable as possible, so you can relax and enjoy the anticipation. She will provide advice on relieving back pain, managing Braxton Hicks contractions, what to take to the hospital and any other concerns you may have.

It’s time!

Childbirth can be difficult. It’s true. But it is also a wonderful, joyous experience. It should – and can be – the best experience of your life.
Once you are in labour your doula will be there to help with whatever you need. Advice on labouring positions that might provide relief, help with showering, heat packs, massage, or just calming your fears. She will be there to inform, support and empower you. And should things not go as you had planned, she will be there to provide comfort and help you understand your options. Her only aim is to ensure you have a positive birth experience and ultimately deliver a healthy happy baby and mum!
Whilst your doula will be on hand to decode some of the medial terminology that might be used, they will not give medical advice, or interfere in your decision making process. They will simply support you and your partner in making informed choices.

A word about Dads or partners

During birth dads or partners are often cast in the role of advocate for the birthing woman, and this can be confronting. They often feel unprepared, especially if things are not going as you expected them to. Yet some people are concerned a doula will replace the father or partner in the birthing process. Nothing could be further from the truth. Your doula will help your partner understand what is happening, and provide them with the moral support, techniques and confidence they need to best help the labouring mum. And if your partner needs a breather or bathroom break, your doula will be there.

And after the Birth

Once your baby is safely delivered your doula will continue to provide you with support and information.

The early days as parents can be overwhelming. Sleep – even showering and eating – can sometimes seem like something you will never do again. Your doula will come to your home and take care of baby while you have a much needed rest, an uninterrupted shower, and even serve you a hot meal you haven’t had to cook yourself. Whatever support you need, your doula will provide including managing all those well meaning visitors!

New parents often wonder if the way their baby is behaving is ‘normal’. A doula can put your mind to rest and help you understand what falls into the enormous range of ‘normal’. She will let you know if she thinks there is something you should speak to a medical professional about.

Your doula can also help you with how you are feeling as new parents – both physically and emotionally – and give you confidence that you are not alone in the wildly fluctuating feelings you might be experiencing.

And if this is not your first baby, your doula can help your new arrival settle smoothly into your family.

If you have any questions about the role of a Doula, or would like more information, I would love to hear from you.