All mothers should have a period of uninterrupted skin-to skin contact with their baby after birth, at least until after the first feed and for as long as they wish.

All mothers will be encouraged to offer the first feed in skin contact when the baby shows signs of readiness to feed. Mothers and babies who are unable to have skin contact immediately after birth are encouraged to commence skin contact as soon as they are able, whenever or wherever that may be. For those mothers who go on to bottle feed, skin contact remains an important way to support the bonding process and therefore offering the first feed in skin contact is encouraged. 

There is a growing body of evidence that skin-to-skin contact after the birth helps babies in many ways. Skin-to-skin contact has been shown to provide the following benefits:

  • calms and relaxes both mother and baby
  • regulates heart rate and breathing in the baby
  • stimulates digestion
  • regulates temperature
  • enables colonisation of baby’s skin with mother's friendly bacteria, thus providing protection against infection
  • stimulates feeding behaviour
  • stimulates the release of hormones to support breastfeeding and mothering
  • helps preterm babies to be more stable, maintain their temperature, fight infection, grow and develop better and be discharged from hospital sooner

Babies' instincts after birth will drive them to follow a unique process which leads to a first breastfeed. If they achieve this successfully it is very likely that they will recall this at subsequent feeds, making them significantly easier.

After birth, babies who are placed skin-to-skin on their mothers' chest will:

  • initially cry briefly – a very distinctive birth cry
  • then they will enter a stage of relaxation, recovering from the birth
  • then the baby will start to wake up
  • then begin to move; initially little movements, perhaps of the arms, shoulders and head
  • as these movements increase he will actually start to crawl towards the breast
  • once he has found the breast and therefore his food source, he will tend to rest for a little while (often this can be mistaken as the baby being not hungry or not wanting to feed)
  • however, after his rest, he will start to familiarise himself with the breast, perhaps by nuzzling, smelling and licking before he finally attaches
  • once he has suckled for a period of time, he will come off the breast and fall asleep

All babies will follow this process, providing it is not interrupted by anything, such as taking the baby away to be weighed, or the mother going for a shower. Interrupting the process before the baby has completed this sequence, or trying to hurry him through the stages, is counter-productive and may lead to problems at subsequent breastfeeds.

Information syndicated from UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Initiative