Tiny baby feet are shown being held by a pair of hands.
An intense bond will develop between mother and child in the golden hour, the time immediately after birth. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Have you ever heard of the golden hour?

In listening to a photography podcast recently, I heard them refer to the hour before sunset as the golden hour, that perfect moment of the evening when the world is aglow in rich, vibrant colors. They say it’s the ideal time to take a photo.

Photography, however, is not what I’m referring to here.

In this instance, the golden hour refers to those 60 or so precious minutes immediately after birth.

In years past, the routine had been pretty standard: A baby would be born, a nurse would hold him up and show him to mom, then take him to the warmer where he’d be warmed, measured, weighed and made to undergo a few procedures.

We know that in this first hour, the baby is very awake. The American Academy of Pediatrics believes strongly in the importance of this time, the golden hour, because it is essential to the wellness of mom and baby.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has a policy stating that healthy infants should be placed on the mom’s chest or abdomen until at least the first feeding.

We call this skin-to-skin contact. We know it does many things, such as regulating the baby’s temperature and blood-sugar levels, and it does so much better than would any machinery.

We bring a baby warmer into the room for delivery, but we don’t use it unless there’s a concern with the baby. Ideally, the newborn goes directly to the new mom.

The policy on the American Academy of Pediatrics website says a nurse should perform the physical assessment of a healthy newborn while the baby enjoys skin-to-skin time with mom.

This means all the weighing, measuring and other procedures should take place after the golden hour.

Latching and love

Many amazing things happen in the golden hour.

Hormones change in mom’s brain, which increases her desire to nurture and love the new baby. Skin-to-skin contact and early breastfeeding also help release these hormones, which are sometimes referred to as oxytocin, or the “love hormone.”

Research has shown that early breastfeeding improves infant survival and prolongs the duration of breastfeeding. (In a previous post, I explained the nine steps to watch for in baby’s first few hours. No. 8 is the latching step, the beginning of breastfeeding.)

If there’s a concern about the baby’s health, meanwhile, bonding can take place as soon as the baby is stable and ready for skin-to-skin time.

If you’re having a cesarean section, talk to your provider in advance about ways to experience the golden hour. Several Spectrum Health hospitals now use a special drape for cesarean sections, with a flap that lowers to allow the baby to be passed through the opening after delivery, right to the waiting mom.

For mom and baby, the bonding process is strengthened by having mom hold her new baby in her arms immediately after delivery. A new baby, accustomed to being held close, is comforted by the sound of mom’s heartbeat.

Dad can also be part of this experience by talking to the new baby and getting next to mom. Dads should also have skin-to-skin time with the baby—and this should happen at home, too, not just in the hospital.