The first contact a newborn baby has is usually with the midwife or obstetrician, as she catches the baby and ‘hands” the newborn to the mother or places the baby on her abdomen or chest.
While this may sometimes be necessary, the symbol is clear: we deliver the mother of her trials and ‘give’ the baby to her. Nothing could be further from the truth. A mother GIVES BIRTH and then if we stand back and restrain ourselves, she will gather herself together, reach forward to lift her baby and enfold her newborn to her heart.
Then skin to skin contact, the mutual gaze and the sequence of newborn behaviours will ensue in the first hour after birth.
We need to be patient at birth and give the new family time to be with each other. We do not need to weigh the baby straight away or measure it. This can be done later when the first sensitive period has passed. Allow the mother and father to touch and handle the baby themselves. The result will be a baby that ‘breast crawls’ then latches by himself onto the breast, and an ecstatic mother who has ‘done it herself’. The attachment and reward hormones will peak and the relationship between mother and infant will be enhanced.
The sensory systems are acute after birth and the newborn’s sense of smell assist him to find the nipple and latch when he is ready. Caregivers smell different to parents and touching the baby interferes with the innate bonding apparatus between a baby and his parents.
The same applies to the father and newborn. Here a father shares a tender moment with his newborn son. The clothes are open at the front so there is skin to skin contact between them and the tenderness is palpable. Fathers release oxytocin and prolactin at birth especially when they are able to hold their newborn baby skin to skin after birth within the first two hours.
This bonding time affirms the attachment between a father and his newborn and has been shown to deepen the relationships between fathers and their children up to six years later.