I will never forget how it felt to hold my baby skin-to-skin after a C-section with my daughter placed on my chest. Instead of lying alone and anxious on the operating table, distracted by the surgery that was still happening, I was completely absorbed by my sweet baby.
Within minutes of her arrival, we were already creating a special bond.
Evidence shows that skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby has many benefits and should be supported after birth — including Cesarean birth.
While it’s common to have skin-to-skin care after vaginal birth, many mothers wonder if it’s even possible after C-section. Many parents in our VBAC class and Instagram tell us this is one of their most important birth goals — holding their baby right away, whether they can have a vaginal birth or not.
So, let’s dive into the importance and benefits of skin-to-skin contact after C-section birth, and how it actually works.
What is skin to skin contact?
Skin-to-skin contact means your new baby is placed naked against your bare chest immediately after birth. Right after the baby comes out, the newborn will be placed on your belly or chest. Staff may then gently pat or wipe the baby down, and clean out any remaining fluid from the baby’s mouth.
Once the baby’s cord is cut, the nursing staff can help position your baby higher on your chest and closer to the breast. To keep your baby’s temperature up, they will likely cover him/her up with a blanket and put a hat on their head. If you would like a certain blanket and hat, or may not desire anything to be placed on your baby, don’t hesitate to tell your staff.
Some people may not desire skin to skin right after birth, fearing the baby will be covered in birthing substances. However, mothers who have had skin to skin often love the way it feels and experience a stronger mother baby bond.
In my experience, there was something special about the feeling of my baby being handed directly to me and placed on my chest.
Holding baby after C-section
Holding your baby after having a C-section is something that can always be requested at your birth location. In fact, skin to skin after a C-section is considered one of the most common requests for a family centered cesarean.
If there is a shortage of staff in the room, they may be uncomfortable allowing you to hold the baby skin to skin. To make sure it’s done safely, medical staff prefers to have someone with the mother and baby at all times.
However, when it is possible, mothers love being able to have contact with their new baby right away, while the doctor needs time to finish the surgery.
Having that connection as soon as your baby is born is really special. It can help the experience of C-section feel like an empowering birth. On the other hand, waiting on the operating table for your turn to finally see and hold your baby can be really difficult.
After my first C-section, I remember all of the conversations that were happening around me. I also remember laying there, alone, and asking the anesthesiologist when I could see my baby. I could hear my husband’s voice on the other side of the room, but I couldn’t see or interact with anyone until my surgery was complete. It was really hard.
After my second C-section, I was able to have my baby on my chest immediately after she was born. All I remember is feeling her on my chest, skin to skin, holding my hand, and hearing her little baby noises.
There are different ways to hold a baby for skin to skin contact after a C-section, to make it possible in the operating room. Here are ways you can suggest to your provider and hospital staff if they are uncomfortable or inexperienced with skin to skin after Cesarean:
- Slide the belly bands they use to hold fetal monitors up to your chest, and place the baby inside the band to help secure the baby a little more.
- Have your partner stay close and help hold the baby on your chest.
- Ask the anesthesiologist if you can unstrap your arms to hold the baby yourself, with your birthing partner close by in case you need help.
- Ask if they can have a designated nurse close by to assist.
No matter if the mother is planning on breastfeeding or bottle feeding, skin to skin contact has a huge benefit. It is encouraged to have the mom and baby stay together if everyone is doing okay for at least the first hour.
Benefits of skin to skin after cesarean birth
These are some of the many benefits researchers have found of encouraging skin to skin contact after birth.
Babies have been shown to cry less
Studies have shown that the babies who have had skin to skin care with their mothers after birth were less likely to cry. Skin to skin contact with the mother after birth can help strengthen and meet the newborn’s biological needs.
When a mother holds the new baby on her chest, babies tend to feel their calm heart rate, which they were familiar with inside the womb. Being able to connect with that brings comfort to the newborn and calms them when they are feeling upset.
Separation from the mother can stress the baby and increase their heart rate. When a baby is placed on their mother’s chest, it can stabilize their heart rate and breathing.
The mother and baby are able to regulate their temperatures
Due to the sterile environment, position of the mother, cold environment, and lack of staff, doing skin to skin in the operating room after a C-section is not as common.
However, placing the baby right on the chest after birth can help a newborn avoid hypothermia. It can help the baby both warm up and cool down if needed.
Helps the uterus by releasing oxytocin
Oxytocin is known as the “love/snuggle hormone” because it is released through touch and closeness with other people. When your baby is placed on your chest skin to skin, oxytocin is released. It has many benefits after birth, for both mother and baby.
After birth, people are given Pitocin, the synthetic version of oxytocin, as a standard practice to eliminate the risk of hemorrhage. When the uterus is at full term, it is stretched out and has to contract back down to its normal size. Oxytocin helps the uterus clamp down, which in turn, stops bleeding.
Skin to skin helps initiate and create a strong breastfeeding journey
When the newborn is placed immediately on the mother’s chest, it is not only comforting to the baby and wonderful for the mom, but it is actually enhancing the opportunity for the newborn to exclusively breastfeed.
There is a breastfeeding reflex in babies that sparks during the skin to skin time. Studies show that there are 9 behaviors that actually help a baby latch onto the mother’s breast after birth.
- Birth cry after a baby is born
- Relaxation in the hands
- Awakening by doing small movements in the body specifically the head and shoulders
- Activity with the mouth ie: rooting
- Resting periods between any of these stages
- Crawling to the breast, may even see a head bobble around searching
- Familiarization with the breast by licking and smelling
- Suckling by attaching to the breast and feeding
- Sleeping soundly
All of these activities are encouraged simply by having the baby in close contact, skin to skin with the mother.
Widström A., Lilja G., Aaltomaa-Michalias P., Dahllöf M., Nissen E. (2011). Newborn behaviour to locate the breast when skin-to-skin: A possible method for enabling early self-regulation. Acta Paediatrica, 100, 1–7. 10.1111/j.1651-2227.2010.01983.x
How long after birth should you do skin to skin?
Skin to skin contact after birth can happen for as long as you would like, but is suggested to have a minimum of an hour immediately after birth. In that first hour after birth, the mother and baby do skin to skin and also begin nursing or feeding.
This doesn’t have to end after the first hour; it can continue as long as desired. Newborn tests and exams can also be performed while the baby is with the mother. If vaccinations are chosen, having the baby on your chest can actually help them stay calm and feel safe during that time.
After the first hour, the mother is usually asked to use the restroom and prepare to move to the mom and baby unit or to try and walk a little. This is when the father or birth partner may step in and also have some skin to skin bonding time.
The best thing about skin to skin is there is no time limit on when you have to stop. Nursing was one of my go to times for skin to skin care. I would take my baby’s clothes off down to the diaper, and place them skin to skin while they nursed.
It was so wonderful and special. I loved the bond that time together created.
Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions about skin to skin contact after C-section.
Can I hold my baby immediately after C-section?
If there is no medical reason preventing it, you should be able to hold your baby after having a C-section. Be sure to ask your staff before going into the OR how they can help you have skin to skin time after birth and what they can do to help you have a more family centered Cesarean experience.
What are my options for skin-to-skin contact after a C-section?
Options will vary depending on the policies at your birth location, but here are some ways to hold your baby for skin to skin contact after C-section:
- Placing a belly band that they use to hold fetal monitors in labor and delivery rooms up around your chest is a great way to hold your baby on your chest after your C-section. Placing the baby inside of the band will help you feel that your baby is securely positioned, since your hands will likely be out to your sides.
- Ask your anesthesiologist to release one of your arms, so you can hold your baby, keeping your birth partner nearby to help.
- Have your baby placed on your chest, with your birthing partner or nurse holding the baby so they stay close to you.
- If you are unable to hold your baby chest to chest, you can have your partner or nurse hold your baby close to your face and neck, so you are getting some contact until you are able to hold the baby.
- If you are unable to do it, skin to skin contact with the dad or birth partner will bring baby comfort, too.
Does skin to skin increase milk supply?
Having skin to skin contact with your baby can in fact increase milk supply. When your baby is placed on your chest, your body releases a hormone called oxytocin and prolactin which are two hormones that make breast milk. When I was struggling with my milk supply I was told to go and snuggle with my baby in bed, both of us being nude and it would help boost my milk. It did help me, and I saw more milk and a satisfied baby after doing it.
Do dads do skin to skin after birth?
Just like it is important for moms and babies to have skin-to-skin contact after birth, it is important for dads, too. When a baby is placed on their dad’s chest, it can offer so much comfort. My husband was encouraged to hum, or sing to our baby because the rattle in a deeper voice soothes a newborn. It also establishes more of a bond for the newborn and father.
Whether you are planning an elective C-section or VBAC, we are here to support you.
If you want to learn more about your birth options after Cesarean, check out our VBAC course for parents.