I want a skin-to-skin do-over
If you look back at pictures of my son in the hospital after his birth, you might notice that he’s swaddled in the standard blue-and-pink-striped baby blanket in almost every shot. That’s because, other than diaper changes, baths, and an occasional loosening of the blanket during nursing sessions, he was swaddled. Pretty much all the time. And I really, really regret it.
Of what I can remember about the first few days of my son’s life (it’s been almost seven years, so things get hazy), I have little-to-no memories of skin-to-skin time with him. I attribute that to how his birth ended up playing out. While I’d wanted and planned for a natural childbirth, life had other things in store for us. After 22 hours of intense back labor and a handful of heart rate scares, I gave birth via C-section to a 10 pound, 2.5-ounce chunk of a baby who was camped out in the posterior position.
Let me just say that my C-section was not a bad experience at all; it is not a regret. I received excellent (not to mention incredibly compassionate) care from my OB and the surgical staff. In fact, while many C-section moms don’t see their babies until everyone gets cleaned up, our nurse brought mine around the drape while he was still naked and covered and goo so I could get a real first look at him. My husband placed him in my arms–all swaddled up, of course–within minutes of the birth. But…I wasn’t the first person to hold my baby. We were introduced a few feet away from each other, not as I’d planned: belly-to-belly and nose-to-nose after I pushed him into the world. I don’t think we took him out of the blanket and counted fingers and toes until it was time for my husband to tackle the first diaper change.
In addition to helping with mom-baby bonding, skin-to-skin contact increases the levels of prolactin produced by the mother. Prolactin, as the name suggests, helps your body make milk. Nursing didn’t come easily for us at first (my milk took its sweet time coming in), and I can’t help but wonder if my tendency to keep him in that blanket those first few days exacerbated our troubles. Thankfully, after A LOT of hard work, I got sorted out, and we both became breastfeeding champs. But it’s all still a big game of “woulda coulda shoulda” for me. Would those early days have felt easier if I’d just put that naked baby on my chest? If I had tossed that blanket aside, could I have spared myself all of those nursing-related tears? How would things have been different for us if family-centered cesareans were more commonplace back then?
Keeping my baby swaddled wasn’t a conscious effort on my part. Anyone who’s given birth in a hospital knows how it goes: the nurse comes in, checks the baby out, wraps the baby up nice and tight, and hands it back over to you. I guess I figured, “Well, these people are the pros. If this is how they think the baby is happiest, I’ll follow their lead.” No one told me not to take him out of the swaddle; it just didn’t occur to me to do it. I think if I’d experienced that skin-to-skin contact with him right off, I would’ve unwrapped that kid every chance I got. Then maybe my first memories of touching him would come with the sensation of a newborn’s skin on my chest, not washed-out cotton under my fingertips.