A mother's touch: Baptist program encourages 'skin to skin' contact

July 6, 2013 6:42:12 PM

Sarah Fowler - [email protected]


The first few moments of a baby's life are the most precious. With that in mind, Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle is implementing skin to skin, a program that focuses on immediate contact between the baby and mother immediately after birth. 


The program is the "baby' of Susan Spencer, who has revitalized the maternity ward at Baptist since her arrival in January. 


Spencer moved to the area from Tyler, Texas, where she helped foster an atmosphere that promoted family time and an intimacy between the mother and child at Mother Frances Hospital. 


Now, she is doing the same thing in Columbus. 


"It started a lot with premature babies, but then as we look at it and go back to nature -- what we did when we lived in caves and for thousands upon thousands of years in humanity -- babies have gone immediately to their moms. You just think, 'Wow, only in the last 50 or 60 years have we gotten to whisking babies off to the nursery for four hours,'" Spencer said. 


In addition to skin to skin, the maternity ward now offers "the first hour" immediately after the baby is born. "First Hour" is a chance for the mother, father and new baby to spend an hour to themselves and helps promote family bonding, Spencer said. 


"What we found was amazing," Spencer said. "The moms did not reject the idea. The dads thought it was great. The grandparents don't mind waiting. Once it takes hold in a community people are actually on the phone saying, 'Oh, no, no, no. We haven't seen the baby yet; they're doing that first-hour thing,' so the grandparents are embracing it," 




A bonding experience 


Kelly Birckett delivered her son, Bryce, at Baptist last Monday. Birckett and her husband, Owen, learned of the skin to skin program during birthing class. The Bircketts knew immediately that they wanted to experience it with their newborn. 


"When we learned about it in our child-birth class, we thought it was a really great thing that they don't just whisk the baby away from you. That's the only thing that I ever knew existed so learning about skin to skin was amazing because it's that initial bonding experience you have with your baby," she said. 


Owen Birckett, said he enjoyed being able to spend time with his wife and son immediately after Bryce was born. 


"It's nice because we've been waiting for nine months and then to have to give up your baby immediately after birth" he said. 


"It sounds kind of sad when you think about," Kelly said. "You wait so long for your baby and then they take it away." 


She added that by having skin to skin contact, she felt like she immediately bonded with her new son. 


"It's amazing how the baby really warmed up to me and to us as a family. Just being on my chest and feeling me. He was so calm and I feel like that will have long-term effects -- the fact that the baby got to be with us right away. It was amazing. It was great, I loved it." 


Spencer said the results of the immediate skin to skin contact can last until the child is two years old. 


"Babies at two years of age cry less if they were skin to skin in the first hour," Spencer said. "The more they're skin to skin, the more assimilated they are neurologically. They just seem to thrive better with lots of close contact with moms. It's just amazing the difference it makes," she said. 


The practice of skin to skin contact came about in recent years when babies were dying in third-world countries. Spencer said researchers went to a hospital in Colombia that serviced low- income mothers in an attempt to understand why the newborns were not surviving. The researchers implemented the skin to skin practice and the babies began to thrive. Part of that, Spencer said, was that the children immediately began to breastfeed. 


"So many of those babies lived that went skin to skin," Spenser said. "Breast feeding is huge in other countries and it has to be in third-world countries because it provides so much immunity to all of those things that babies in foreign countries come across. 


"We're talking about babies dying in the first month, the first year. Skin to skin showed great promise. As a matter of fact, they stopped the trials and went to the rich hospitals and started doing skin to skin so those babies would live as well. It was just really a huge thing." 


Spencer said researchers have discovered nine different stages that babies undergo in the first hour of their lives. Without skin to skin, Spencer said newborns and moms can be robbed of that experience and the possible benefits it provides. 


"There is more research now," Spencer said. "Over the years the research has developed and we now know that there are nine stages from the birth cry to the crawl to the breast and latching on to breast feed. Even moms who don't want to breast feed, we find there is positive outcomes that come from just placing the child skin to skin. 


"I now believe -- and I don't have evidence to show this --but it may be the first developmental milestone. And that's on the day of birth. It's just amazing that the baby can accomplish something," she said. 


Although skin to skin is optional, Spencer said the response to the program has been overwhelming when mothers learn of the benefits. 


"We now know that babies who are taken away from their moms are in a state of stress. So (with skin to skin) their heart rates are more stable, their respirations are more stable, their blood sugars are more stable when they're with mom," she said. "We can't make people do it but when we explain it, who wouldn't want their baby to cry less to age two?" 




Nurse recommended, mom approved 


Elaine Chance is a nurse on the maternity floor and encourages new mothers to try skin to skin as a way to bond with their new baby. 


"The best benefit of skin to skin is the bond that takes place between the mother and the infant," Chance said. "The baby can see about 14 inches and that's about how far the baby is from the mother when it's at the breast. That's one of the best ones. You only have one chance with that baby to be skin to skin after birth. Just try it. If you miss that opportunity you'll never get it again." 


Chance added that while skin to skin may be a chance for the mother to bond with her new baby, the quiet hour is a chance for both the mother and the father to spend quality time with their newborn. 


"It's a very intimate moment between the mother, the baby and the significant other when they're a new family unit," Chance said. "It's private. It's not a time when you need a lot of visitors. It creates emotional bond between the parents and the infant. It's something that you can never get back." 


Spencer said she hopes mothers will embrace the idea of skin to skin. 


"You just think, 'How much better could it be if we did it naturally and we're just here in case something happens?' We're not here to take over your life. We just want you to be able to give birth in a place that's ready for you," she said. 


For new mom Kelly Birckett, taking advantage of skin to skin and the quiet hour was the best thing she could have done for her new family. 


"I don't have a previous experience to speak from but I definitely think the skin to skin helped," she said. "We're either really lucky that we have a calm baby or it was just that immediate sense of, 'These (people) are my mom and dad and I'm here.' It's great. I didn't know what to expect, but it's great."

Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.