KIMBERLINA RODRIGUEZ VIVIDLY REMEMBERS THE DAY she decided she would practice skin-to-skin. After anxiously awaiting the birth of her close friend’s daughter, Rodriguez was invited into the delivery room along with an array of other friends and family. “The excitement and anticipation level was high, but once we entered the room, there was a quick shift in emotions,” she recalls. “It was calm.”
With the image of the peaceful newborn resting on her friend’s chest ingrained in her mind, Rodriguez knew a special bond had been created between the mother and child. “I told myself that was the experience I wanted [when I had a baby],” she says.
And a few years later, she was able to. After learning more about the technique in her birthing classes, Rodriguez put the method into practice when welcoming her own daughter, Charlize, into the world. “I can still to this day remember exactly what she looked like as she was being given to me” Rodriguez explains. “I couldn’t get enough of her. I had her on my chest and was just looking at every inch of her.”
The increasingly popular process calls for parents and their newborns to be placed in direct contact with each other, skin-to-skin, immediately after birth for about one hour or up until the first breastfeeding. Rather than wrapping newborns in swaddles and sending them home, children are placed on their mother’s, and often father’s, bare chest to help ease them into a new world with care, calmness, and a new-formed bond with Mom and Dad.
Though the process may seem more new age than old hat, Shelly Lopez Gray, a registered fetal medicine nurse and childbirth educator at Houston Methodist and Texas Children’s Hospital, says many countries around the world are devout, longtime followers of the practice. Gray herself has been a believer in skin-to-skin since her early days of nursing school, and says that the majority of mothers she sees today elect to practice the technique after birth. She adds that not only do parents and their children form an early connection through the practice, but that skin-to-skin is known to boost the health of both mothers and infants after the trying process of labor and birth.
According to Gray, skin-to-skin can make breastfeeding much easier and attainable for mothers and babies, which leads to a healthy weight and reduces long-term and short-term stress and pain for the child. Research shows that the process can also help the newborn find a stable breathing pattern, maintain normal temperatures and blood sugar, and cry less. “It’s taking the baby from one state to another and helps ease the transition from being inside the mother to coming into the world,” Gray says. “It’s a huge shift for a baby, and we encourage it for all moms.”
For Rodriguez, this shift was recognizable during the births of all three of her children, though their introductions into the world were quite different.
Despite her plans to use the same methods for the birth of her second child, Laila, Rodriguez was unable to perform skin-to-skin exactly as she had intended. Though Laila was initially placed on her chest, the baby quickly had to be moved under a heating lamp due to an irregular temperature. “That time went by fast for me, but there was a sense of concern,” Rodriguez recalls. “It stayed with me until they were able to give her back to me.”
Through the assistance of a heating lamp, Laila’s temperature was quickly regulated, and she was then moved back to Rodriguez to continue the skin-to-skin bonding. They clicked instantly.
Rodriguez didn’t wait long to practice skin-to-skin again. Seventeen months later, her son Donovan was born, and Rodriguez put her trusted birth plan back into action again; this time she was able to create the same stress-free environment her family experienced during her older daughter’s birth.
“I think because I had the two different experiences with Charlize and Laila, I went in not knowing what to expect. I knew what was desired, and I was all the more thankful and relieved when I knew that he was going to remain in my arms and he was healthy,” she says. “To be there with him and introduce him to the world with calmness and confidence, it was perfect.”