Just after the birth, your midwife will dry your baby and place them on your tummy for skin-to-skin contact to happen.
Skin-to-skin is a lovely way to say hello and to start to get to know each other.
Talk to your baby as well – your voice will be familiar and that will reassure them. Being close to each other like this causes your body to release oxytocin which makes you and your baby calm and relaxed.
9 stages of skin-to-skin contact
Your baby will go through 9 stages of instinctive behaviour. This helps them find their way to the breast and be ready to feed. If breastfeeding isn't for you, this is when you give your baby a formula feed in skin contact.
Your midwife will help you to recognise these stages and follow your baby’s lead. It may take some time and it’s important not to rush or interrupt your baby’s progress.
Benefits of skin-to-skin contact
Skin-to-skin contact has lots of other benefits for your baby:
- It helps them get warm with the heat from your body
- They’ll hear your heartbeat as they did in the womb – this calms them, reduces their stress levels and steadies their breathing and heart rate
- It will improve the blood flow in their body
- It helps get breastfeeding off to a good start – but it’s just as important for babies and mums who aren’t breastfeeding
- In skin contact your baby will get some of your good bacteria – this is an important first step towards building a healthy immune system
Your baby can have skin-to-skin contact with their dad or your partner.
The first feeds
When your baby wants to feed they’re likely to root, which means they’ll turn their head and open their mouth, looking for food.
You can offer your breast if you’ve decided to breastfeed. Don’t worry if your baby doesn’t seem very interested at first. Even if they’re only touching and nuzzling you, offer them your breast as soon as you can.
Your midwife will help you get into the right position and to start feeding.
How to breastfeed your baby
Your breast milk
If you breastfeed early on and often, your breasts will start to make a small amount of milk.
By the third or fourth day after birth you'll start making more mature milk. You’ll then start to make larger amounts of milk that looks thinner and whiter than your first milk.
The first few feeds give your baby colostrum. This comes in small amounts and is yellow or orange and thick and sticky.
- is easy for them to digest
- will help them have their first poo
- is full of antibodies, so will help them to fight infections
Your baby will benefit if you’re able to breastfeed even for just a short time.
If you choose to formula feed, then you can give a first feed while you have skin-to-skin contact.
Holding your baby close to you and looking into their eyes will also help you bond.
How to feed with infant formula
Bonding with your baby
Bonding is the very intense feeling of love you develop for your baby. You may feel an almost overwhelming sense of love and affection, and a strong desire to care for and protect them.
For some mums and partners this can happen straight away. For others it can take days or even weeks. The strength of your feelings can also vary, and they might be mixed with other emotions, such as a bit of fear.
Why it can take time to bond
You might not bond with your baby straight away if:
- you’ve had a long labour and/or difficult birth
- you’re exhausted
- your baby has a health problem or needs to be looked after in special care
- you’re feeling overwhelmed by everything
Bonding can take a while regardless so try not to feel under pressure. It will come.
After a few weeks you may need extra support if:
- you feel very detached and resentful towards your baby
- it's interfering with your ability to look after both of you
Talk to your health visitor, family nurse or GP for advice.
More about developing a relationship with your baby
How to hold your baby
Your baby’s head is big and heavy compared to the rest of them. It needs to be well supported when you pick them up and hold them.
Try holding your baby:
- by cradling them lengthways in your arms - this is a great position for looking at each other, smiling and talking
- by cuddling them up close to your chest
- by lying them on your chest - take care not to do this if you might fall asleep, such as if you’re tired, have been drinking alcohol or smoking
- using a sling – this is a good way to keep your baby close, with your arms free to do other things
If you're using a sling be sure to read the manufacturer’s safety instructions.
How your baby looks
When your baby's born:
- they may look a little squashed and wrinkly, and their skin may look a bit blue
- they may have vernix on their skin
- their skin may be blotchy or have dry flaky patches.
- they may have a few streaks of blood on them if you had a tear or an episiotomy - this is all normal
- their head may look a funny shape
- they'll have blue eyes, though this may not be their final colour
Within a few days:
- their skin will smooth out a little
- their head will become rounder
- the vernix will disappear
- the white sticky waterproof layer that covered them when they were in the womb
- a natural moisturiser that also protects against infection in the first few days
It should always be left to absorb naturally.
If their head's a funny shape
Your baby's head may look misshapen because the soft skull bones moulded themselves to make it easier to squeeze through the birth canal.
Don’t worry, it will look less misshapen soon.
What they can see
From the moment they’re born your baby can see:
- in black, white and grey but they’ll find it hard to focus on anything more than about 25 cm away
- your face when you hold them in your arms and they may even hold your gaze for a few moments
What they can hear
Your baby can hear and be startled by loud noises. Babies like soft voices best, the kind of tone most of us would use when talking to a baby.
They won’t be talking to you yet, but they are trying to communicate in lots of small ways so try and spot them.
What they can do
Your baby can grasp. Try touching the palm of their hand or stroking their feet.
Play and communicate with them as much as you can. Talk to them, smile, laugh with them and watch their reactions develop.
Your baby can smell too – they’ll recognise the smell of your body and that makes them feel secure.
Staying with your baby
Whether you’re at home, in a maternity unit or in hospital you’ll stay with your baby 24 hours a day wherever possible. This is called rooming in.
Rooming in helps you get used to breastfeeding your baby and reduces the risk of infection.
You’ll have support on hand from the staff in the maternity ward as well as other new mums. You’ll spend lots of time with your baby and start learning to recognise what they need and how to respond to them.
More about developing a relationship with your baby