My Experience Of Skin To Skin
Dr Lucy Hope, Midwife and Principle Lecturer, University of Worcester
When I was pregnant my decision making was based on the evidence I knew as a midwife. One of the decisions I made early on, probably even before I saw the two lines on the test confirming I was pregnant, was that I wanted to breast feed my baby. I wanted to breast feed exclusively for as long as I could, ideally up until my baby was 6 months old. Then if we were both happy to carry on, I wanted to breastfeed for as long as it was right for us to do so. I expected there to be pitfalls along the way, and to be honest I did question whether I would be able to do it.
I tried to prepare as best I could. I looked at the UNICEF Baby Friendly Initiative guidance and called on my professional knowledge. This was different though, it was my turn now. I considered my options, how could I set myself up for success, whilst also hoping for the best? During pregnancy I had been talking to my baby, playing music, and reading to them. They would listen to me asking questions they couldn’t possibly answer, yet seemingly they moved in response and gave me the feeling of connecting with my baby. Another element to my preparation in setting us up for successful breastfeeding, my birth plan included immediate skin to skin contact after birth. I felt very lucky that I was able to ask a friend to be my midwife, and she advocated for me.
Born via caesarean section, my baby cried almost immediately and after a swift check, we met for the first time. It was a very surreal experience. They were warm and sticky with vernix, wearing a stylish woolly hat as they lay on my chest. It was tricky for me to see them as I was still lying down while the operation was completed. I was worried they might not be able to breathe, I asked, “Are they OK?”. They were fine, but a small reposition made me feel much more confident. Making sure they were safe during skin to skin was something I was worried about. I knew I was doing my best by making sure I could always see their nose and mouth whilst skin to skin.
As midwife, I knew what to expect with the caesarean section. I knew my baby would need to be taken to the recovery room ahead of my transfer there. There was a brief interlude, and we were soon reunited. After the obligatory and sensational congratulatory tea and toast, I felt well enough to hold my baby again skin to skin, and attempted to breast feed for the first time. It worked; I was amazed.
As we set out to establish breastfeeding, we had lots of time skin to skin. I had underestimated the amount of time establishing breastfeeding would take. I also underestimated how much I would use skin to skin as a tool. They would be able to hear my heartbeat, smell me and my breastmilk, this would help them remain calm, and remind them of when they were in my womb. Skin to skin would help us develop and maintain our bond, as well as their bond with their father.
I knew that skin to skin could help with regulating my baby’s breathing and temperature. I had always linked this thermoregulation to warming them up, rather than cooling them down. When they were around 2 weeks old, they had a high temperature, and I was worried so I got advice from my friend and community midwife. She advised skin to skin and rechecking their temperature. I put my baby next to me as she advised and this helped calm my anxieties – another benefit of skin to skin. Thankfully they were fine, and after a trip to the out of hours GP, we were home and skin to skin and breastfeeding again.
I used skin to skin as a way of supporting an increase in my milk supply too, which after the initial weeks was not supporting my baby to gain weight. This was a tricky time for me as it made me doubt my ability to produce enough milk. It also made me very determined to continue breastfeeding. Skin to skin was important as it helped me stop and just ‘be’ with my baby. That along with regular pumping got us over the line with an increased supply.
To my surprise I also used skin to skin as a parenting tool. My baby went to nursery and as a result brought home a range of germs as they had fun playing with other children, an inevitable side effect of nursery I did not anticipate. So we would use skin to skin to help settle them, help them breastfeed and generally keep them contented. As they grew older and became a crawler and walker, skin to skin and breastfeeding were my ‘go to’ when they needed consoling from bumping into the dog, or they were tired from their adventures toddling around the place. Sometimes the only thing that worked to settle them was being skin to skin.
As I reflect, I miss that time but I am so grateful to have had it. I would like to think that I would have continued with skin to skin regardless of my feeding method as it was a real help on many occasions. Setting us up for a successful and natural term breastfeeding experience. A way of helping them recover from illness. Helping them recalibrate after a busy day at nursery. Supporting them to rest after their adventures, and helping me maintain a sense of stillness in the busyness of motherhood.
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