Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
Can you imagine it? The moment you’ve been waiting for arrives! You endure your last push, feel the relief of your baby exiting your body, and hear that sweet newborn cry for the first time. Your baby is finally here! You’ve probably pictured this moment countless times, but have you thought much about what comes next? The first 60 minutes of your newborn’s life are nicknamed “the golden hour.” This golden hour after birth is an invaluable time for you and your baby. Let’s talk about this precious hour, so you can prepare for the magic that comes after hearing that first little cry.
Table of contents
- What is the Golden Hour After Birth?
- What Happens in the Golden Hour?
- What Are the Benefits of Skin-to-Skin in the Golden Hour?
- Special Circumstances for The Golden Hour
- How Do I Prepare For the Golden Hour?
What is the Golden Hour After Birth?
The golden hour isn’t necessarily exactly the first sixty minutes after birth; it’s the first hour or two after your baby is born. It ends when your baby completes his first feeding and falls asleep. Ideally, your baby will be dried off after birth and immediately placed naked against the skin of your abdomen or chest. Except in cases of health issues, most babies become alert and ready to breastfeed during the golden hour (2). Plan to hold your baby skin-to-skin, uninterrupted, for the entire golden hour through the end of your baby’s first feeding.
During this time, you and your baby do the following:
- Help each other stabilize after labor and delivery
- Get to know each other outside the womb
- Establish a breastfeeding relationship
What Happens in the Golden Hour?
If left uninterrupted, newborns typically follow a step-by-step process during the golden hour after birth. Although there are average time frames for each step, there is no rush! Don’t try to force feed your baby, but prepare to support her in eating when she’s ready (1). The golden hour after birth is a time to gently transition your baby into this new world, so let her go at her own pace (which might be a little faster or a little slower than what is listed below.) Throughout the golden hour, try to simply enjoy holding and comforting your baby.
After your baby is born, she will be dried off. A diaper and hat can be put on her. She will be placed belly-down on your bare abdomen and chest, so that she has full skin-to-skin contact with you. A warm blanket will be placed over both of you. Your baby will relax for a few minutes (2; 7).
Next, your baby will become active. She might open her eyes, respond to your voice, and show small movements in her head, shoulders, and mouth. After several minutes, she will begin to make sucking movements with her mouth as her rooting reflex takes hold (2; 7). She might need to take breaks with all of this activity! Expect your baby to have periods of activity and periods of rest throughout the golden hour (2).
The Newborn Breast Crawl
About 35 minutes after birth (remember, these times are estimates; your baby’s own schedule is just right) your baby will become more active as she tries to find your breast. It may appear that she is trying to wriggle her way toward your breast (2; 8). This is called the newborn breast crawl. Once she finds your breast, she may rest there and begin to familiarize herself. She might nuzzle or lick your breast (2; 8).
Within the first hour after birth, your baby will probably try to self-attach to your breast and begin to suck (2; 8). You may need to help guide her or have help repositioning to help her get a deep latch.
Do not stress about the perfect first breastfeeding! The golden hour is not a time to perfect your technique. It is a time to try and relax, let your baby take the lead, block out any busyness around you, and ensure your baby feels loved (5; 6). Hospitals and birth centers have lactation consultants available if you need help in those first couple of days, and even the nurses who work on maternity wards tend to be experienced at helping with basic breastfeeding support, but in this golden hour, you’re not looking to get everything just right.
Once your baby breastfeeds for a period of time, she will detach from your breast. Then, she will be ready for a good nap! This usually happens about 1 ½ – 2 hours after she is born (2; 3; 8). You should get some rest too! After that first active hour or two, your baby will probably be pretty sleepy for the next 24 hours. Doctors recommend that you breastfeed your baby every 2 – 3 hours around the clock, so you might need to gently wake her up to eat.
Unless there is a medical reason, this crucial skin-to-skin time should be uninterrupted from birth until your baby finishes her first feeding. You can deliver your placenta while holding your baby. Your baby’s first assessments (where she is given Apgar scores) can be done while you are holding her skin-to-skin (1; 7; 8). Baths, eye ointment, shots, visitors, or anything else that would interrupt the golden hour can wait until after your baby finishes her first feeding (1).
What Are the Benefits of Skin-to-Skin in the Golden Hour?
Holding your baby skin-to-skin uninterrupted for the golden hour after birth has vast benefits for you, your baby, and your breastfeeding success (4). As you read these benefits, I’m sure you’ll understand why this hour is so magical!
Benefits for Mom
- Boosts mom’s confidence in her ability to breastfeed and care for her newborn (3)
- Releases hormones that cause the uterus to contract and remain firm after delivery, decreasing the chance of excessive bleeding (3; 6)
- Calms you and reduces stress (8)
- Stimulates maternal hormones for you to care for your baby (7; 8)
- Strengthens your bond with your baby (2; 7)
- Provides greater satisfaction to be with your baby immediately, rather than being separated from him (7)
Benefits for Baby
- Exposes him to the friendly bacteria on your skin, helping him develop healthy immunity and protect against infection (2; 8)
- Keeps him warm after leaving the warmth of the womb. Your breast can actually increase or decrease in temperature to help regulate your baby’s body temperature (6; 7; 8)
- Stabilizes his glucose levels, heart rate, and breathing rate (2; 8)
- Stimulates senses, digestion, and an interest in feeding (8)
- Calms him and reduces stress (3; 4)
Your scent and the touch of each other’s skin activate hormones in both you and your baby. These hormones help with the following:
- Develop your baby’s rooting reflex and interest in breastfeeding (7; 8)
- Initiate the newborn breast crawl (2)
- Establish your milk supply and milk ejection reflex (5; 6)
If your baby has an uninterrupted golden hour, he will most likely follow the natural steps to breastfeeding outlined above. He can recall this process at later feedings, causing fewer breastfeeding problems (8). Establishing a breastfeeding relationship in the golden hour provides short- and long-term effects on breastfeeding success.
Special Circumstances for The Golden Hour
Sometimes special circumstances separate moms and babies for a time after birth. While we aim for birth to be as natural as possible, sometimes mom and/or baby need extra medical care, and sometimes this causes a delay in being able to bond skin-to-skin. In these cases, initiate skin-to-skin contact as soon as you reunite with your baby.
- If there is a delay in skin-to-skin contact because of the mother’s health, another adult (such as Dad or Grandma) should hold your baby skin-to-skin (1).
- After a cesarean delivery, ask that they immediately put your baby cheek-to-cheek with you or on your chest if able (4). Your baby should be placed on you skin-to-skin as soon as you are responsive and alert (1).
- If your baby’s medical needs prevent skin-to-skin contact or she cannot breastfeed immediately, manually express milk within one hour (1).
- If you receive anesthesia or pain medicine during labor, it may take your baby longer to go through the stages of the golden hour (2; 5; 7).
If special circumstances interrupt your golden hour or your baby has a hard time breastfeeding initially, do not get discouraged! You are not alone. Many mothers have established successful breastfeeding hours or even days after their baby is born (3; 5). Spend time talking to or touching your baby if you’re able — for instance if baby is in an incubator and can’t be held. Bonding in any way is is special and precious, and it can happen even if circumstances differ from what you imagined.
How Do I Prepare For the Golden Hour?
Communicate with your doctor or midwife, hospital nurses, and partner about your preferences for the golden hour. Research the common practices at your hospital and talk with your doctor or midwife to ensure you will have the care you desire. The following best practices are recommended:
- Skin-to-Skin Contact ASAP. Ask that they only dry off your baby and place him on you skin-to-skin as soon as possible after birth, as long as there are no serious medical reasons to delay it.
- Delay Cord Clamping. Recent research shows that delayed cord clamping is beneficial to your baby.
- Assess Baby on Mom’s Abdomen. Ask that your baby receives his newborn assessments (APGAR tests) while receiving skin-to-skin contact on your abdomen (1; 7; 8).
- Delay Bath, Shots, and Eye Ointment. Delay your baby’s bath, shots, eye ointment, etc. until after the golden hour (1).
- Continue Skin-to-Skin. Skin-to-skin contact has countless benefits outside of the golden hour! Doctors recommend that you and your partner continue skin-to-skin contact with your baby, particularly in the first few weeks of your baby’s life.
This is such an exciting time for you! As you prepare for labor and delivery, remember the magic of the golden hour with your little one awaits you. It’s all worth it, mama!
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- Baby-Friendly USA. (2016). “Guidelines and Evaluation Criteria for Facilities Seeking Baby-Friendly Designation.” Albany, NY: Baby-Friendly USA. https://babyfriendlyusa.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/GEC2016_v2-180716.pdf
- CAPPA: Childbirth & Postpartum Professional Association. (2016). Lactation Educator Manual (Ninth Edition).
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- Injoy Health Education. 2016. Understanding Breastfeeding: Your Guide to a Healthy Start (Seventh Edition). Longmont, CO: InJoy Birth & Parenting Education.
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- Meek, J.Y., Yu, W., American Academy of Pediatrics. (2011). New Mother’s Guide to Breastfeeding (Second Edition). New York, NY: Bantam Books Trade Paperback
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- Unicef: The Baby Friendly Initiative. (2019). “Skin-to-skin Contact.” United Kingdom. 2019. Retrieved November 2020. https://www.unicef.org.uk/babyfriendly/baby-friendly-resources/implementing-standards-resources/skin-to-skin-contact/