The magic hour
Skin-to-skin with mom after birth.

The first hour after birth has been called “the Magic hour” by Swedish ‘baby–whisperer’ doctors Ann-Marie Widström, Lars Ake Hanson and Kajsa Brimdyr – international experts on skin-to-skin contact (SSC) in the first hour after birth.

For many years it has been said that breastfeeding is more likely to be successful when started soon after birth –but how this is done also plays a big role in the success of breastfeeding. Brimdyr, Hanson and Widström filmed, studied and documented the baby’s movements and survival tactics in the first hour after birth, and, providing that there have been no complications during the pregnancy and the birth, are encouraging midwives and doctors to support parents who want to follow this trend.

Left undisturbed immediately after the birth gives the new family the chance to discover and bond with one another, privately and undisturbed. Breastfeeding for the first time needs to be learned by mother and baby. It can’t be rushed!

When the baby explores his new environment and discovers natural instincts and senses, he learns techniques that ensure his survival. His efforts teach mother how to have patience, an essential
tool of breastfeeding.

Before the days of ergotmetrine, vitamin K and APGAR scores, the immediate survival of mother and baby depended on the vital first hour after birth. Left skin-toskin, mother and baby were observed but left alone.

The Cochrane Collaboration that reviews new evidence before it’s published, assessed the research done on babies who were left skin-to-skin with their mothers immediately after birth.
The research showed that “skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby at birth reduces crying, improves mother-baby interaction, keeps the baby warmer and helps women to breastfeed successfully.”

The experts of skin-to-skin contact have shown that the baby’s behaviour during this ‘magic hour’ fulfils his basic biological needs for survival and helps to programme his brain and even future behaviour. The nine identified stages vary in sequence and time from baby to baby. Some stages may be repeated and some babies make take longer than an hour to latch and finally fall asleep.

The cry

of the newborn is an urgent call for help. This first cry also changes the physiology of the baby’s heart, dividing it into four separate chambers to deal with oxygenated blood from the lungs, and deoxygenated blood from the body. It also inflates the baby’s lungs and keeps them inflated.


happens when the baby’s instincts tell him that everything’s okay – and he can take it easy. Utterly
exhausted, the baby slumps, content, between the contours of his mother’s breasts and succumbs to the rhythm of her breathing and heartbeat.


a few minutes later, the baby deliberately moves in small thrusts. He also opens his eyes to look directly into his mother’s. Instinctively she gently rubs the back of his head, reassuring him with her touch and the sound of her voice. The father too will reach out to his wife and baby – deepening his bond of protection, love and affection – essential for the survival of his little family.

The activity stage

is one that usually lasts the longest (about 8 to 10 minutes) when, with an open mouth (stimulated by the rooting reflex) and eyeing his mother’s darkened nipple, the baby works hard to reach it. He dribbles, sometimes managing to get his fist into his mouth or grabs hold of his mother’s nipple. It’s hard work and usually before the baby succeeds, he needs a little of the next stage.


has to happen in order for the baby to work up the strength to complete the next stage.

Crawling stage

(this happens about 30 to 40 minutes after the birth). Brave, bold and determined now, he jerks, leaps, rocks, crawls and slides towards, over and onto her breast to reach the nipple. Dad may even need to intervene to make sure the baby does not fall.


and acquainting himself with his mother’s body, the baby now licks her breast, launching himself towards her nipple every now and then or moving his fist from his mouth to her nipple – indirectly tasting the promise of colostrum (first milk). He may periodically look up to mom for reassurance.


finally begins on the baby’ initiation and in his own time. The purpose of this suckling is not necessarily nutritional. It releases a surge of prolactin (milk-making hormone) and oxytocin (the muscle-contracting hormone) from the mother. These hormones help her to bond with her baby, and
by contracting her womb, helps to control bleeding.


occurs when baby is finally content and satisfied. Mom in the meantime succumbs to a symphony of hormones that helps her body to recover and dad keeps vigil.

Practically speaking, the magic hour cannot be attempted if the mother’s (or baby’s) life is at risk. If a woman has a caesarean birth, the magic hour is possible providing that preparations have been made, and there are no complications.

Midwives and doctors who are prepared to be ‘hands off’ for the first hour after birth can follow normal procedures. Still skinto- skin with you, the baby is dried and covered with a soft towel to keep him warm, and the vitamin K injection is given.

The baby does not need to be suctioned, weighed, measured or washed in the first hour. The midwife or doctor can do the APGAR score (breathing, crying, colour, heartbeat, reflex) simply by watching the baby and putting the stethoscope over the baby’s back.

One hour is not a lot of time to ask for when considering the baby, mother and father have a lifetime of learning ahead. During this first undisturbed hour, the father’s attachment, responsibility and protection towards his family also needs to be established.

Men often feel left out in an arena they know little about. Women can feel intimidated and afraid to use her initiative or allow her instincts to guide her through these first tentative steps of motherhood when she is told what to do. Allowing babies to take the lead in the hour after birth can make a difference. Talk to your doctor or midwife.

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