In making the transition from the new world, the baby experiences a lot of changes.
The first business at hand is to make sure the baby has a safe and healthy entry into the world. Baby is born with his mouth and nose full of water (amniotic fluid). Your birth attendant suctions this fluid to make way for air. Baby gets his first “nose blow” within seconds after birth, sometimes even as his head emerges, and the rest of his body is still inside. After suctioning the fluid from the baby’s breathing passages, your birth attendant cuts and clamps the cord, and the baby begins life outside the womb. Most often, these events can take place with a baby nestled on your abdomen, a soft cushion from which to be initiated into the rites of extra-uterine life.
Birth is a hands-on affair. During the drama of birth, many mothers instinctively reach down and touch the baby’s head as it emerges from the birth canal as if needing to get their hands on their baby during the delivery. (If the pushing stage is prolonged, the mother can be greatly encouraged if she can touch the small amount of her baby’s head that is finally within reach. This helps her to organize her bearing down by showing her how to direct her efforts.) Some birth attendants encourage dad to touch the baby’s head or even to get his hands on the whole baby as she emerges from the birth canal, giving him a sense of taking part in the delivery.
Since then, I’ve become a veteran baby catcher dad, as I also ushered babies number seven and eight (I was there for the birth of our adopted daughter as well) into the world. Many birth attendants are now offering fathers an opportunity to connect with their babies in this particular way. This first touch isn’t for all dads (or moms)—but if it is essential to you, ask for it.
As soon as the cord is clamped and cut, baby makes the most important switch of his or her life—the transition from womb breathing to air-breathing. Some babies click in immediately or “pink up.” Others need a few puffs of oxygen and gentle stimulation to initiate breathing.
After “all systems go”—meaning the baby is pink and breathing well—the birth attendant places the baby on your abdomen skin , tummy to tummy, his head nestling between your breasts, and covers him with a warm, absorbent towel to get him dry and keep him warm. Encourage baby to nestle cheek to breast and lick or suck your nipple. If he seems upset and continues to cry, he realizes he has just been through a very harrowing experience. Your warm hand firmly on his back can give him the feeling of being securely held. This safe, warm place, together with your rhythmic breathing, is just what he needs to calm his nerves from the stress of birth. Once he starts sucking at your breast, he will calm even more.
This first snuggle is not just sound psychology; it’s functional medicine. Newborns quickly get cold. Draping your baby tummy to tummy, cheek to breast allows a natural transfer of heat from mother to newborn. And sucking from your nipple stimulates the hormone oxytocin, which helps your uterus contract, minimizing postpartum bleeding.
This first meeting should be a private one.
Immediately after birth, babies usually appear distressed—a pained grimace, wrinkled forehead, puffy eyes, tightly flexed limbs, and clenched fists. Within minutes after birth, most newborns enter a state of quiet alertness. This is the original state of receptivity in which a newborn can best relate to his or her new environment. Baby’s eyes and body language reflect this state. When quietly alert, baby’s eyes are wide open and searching for another set of eyes—give him yours. During the prime time of this premiere appearance, a baby will look into your eyes, snuggle against your breasts, relax his fists and limbs, and quietly melt into the contours of your body. While in this intimate space, baby and mother share a mutual need: baby’s need to be comforted and the mother’s need to be in touch with her baby. During this first interaction, baby takes in the sound of your voice, your scent, the feel of your warm skin, and the sweet taste of his first food. As the baby continues to suckle and you continue to soothe, you both feel right. Within an hour after birth, the baby may drift contentedly into a deep sleep.
Imagine for a moment what your baby feels during this first meeting. By giving your baby a smooth transition from the inside womb to the outside womb of your skin, arms, and breasts, a baby learns that distress is followed by comfort; that the world outside the womb is a warm and comfortable place. The connection continues, birth having changed only the way this connection is expressed.
The baby you now see is the baby you have been feeling all along, someone you have known and finally get to meet. We have noticed that in this first meeting, mothers and fathers look at their newborn with a sort of wide-angle lens, getting an overall picture of the uniqueness of this little person. Then they gradually focus on their newborn’s unique characteristics. One first feeling we have noticed new parents express is that of immediately welcoming their newborn as a person, the latest member of the family. “She has your ears,” mother may say to father. “She has her grandmother’s nose,” parents may exclaim.