Holding your baby
It seems unbelievable now, but the moment when you will meet your baby gets closer and closer as you near the end of labour. You will be very busy pushing your baby out over what can feel like a long time but then, suddenly, your contractions have gone, the pressure of the baby’s head is gone, and your baby is there in front of you!
The relief is tremendous, and you may feel excited and happy, or exhausted, or you may just feel a total anticlimax. It is a big moment in your life and feelings can often be conflicting. Give yourself time to recover from the huge effort and work you have done.
The midwife will usually birth the baby straight onto your tummy, but sometimes they may rub the baby dry first and then snuggle him or her right up next to you, with your bare skins touching and a warm blanket over you both. Occasionally, your baby may need to have mucous cleared from the nose and mouth (with a little suction tube), or need a few breaths of oxygen, but then you will be brought together again.
This placing of the baby directly onto your naked tummy or chest is called “skin-to-skin contact” and it is now recommended across the world as the best way to keep your newborn baby warm and happy. Ideally, this time of close contact should last one hour.
Research shows that babies who have skin-to-skin contact at birth are more likely to breast feed successfully at the first feed, and then breast-feed for longer (Moore et al 2016). Some studies seem to show that babies who have had skin-to-skin contact have better heart and breathing patterns, and their blood sugar levels appear to be better as well.
The Umbilical Cord
At this time, the baby’s umbilical cord can either be clamped and cut, or left to ‘pulsate’ (beat in time with your baby’s heartbeat). When the cord is left intact, your baby’s heart is pumping its own blood to your placenta and back again, just like it was while your baby was inside you.
This means that the baby is still getting oxygen through the placenta, which helps to tide the baby over the first few minutes of life if he or she is not breathing totally on their own yet.
Leaving the cord intact for a few minutes also makes sure that your baby gets the last 70mls of their blood that otherwise would remain in the placenta. This reduces the risk of having anaemia (low blood count) in the first few months (McDonald et al 2013). So it is best for those first few minutes not to rush into clamping and cutting the cord, and this is even more important if your baby is born a little premature (Rabe et al 2019).
It’s also just a lovely time, when you and your baby can start getting to know each other, and if your partner is there too, the three of you start a new relationship. Enjoy those first few minutes – you’ve earned them!