The first few moments of a baby's life are a critical time to bond and attach to the mother or other caregiver – a theory supported by neuroscience, according to Dr. Nils Bergman, a South African physician who advocates for skin-to-skin contact.
Speaking at a Breastfeed LA conference on Sept. 11 at Torrance Memorial Medical Center, Bergman told the hospital officials, nurses and others in attendance that a paradigm shift needs to occur in how and where babies are located immediately after birth. Skin-to-skin contact initiates emotional and neurological well-being and is an important step toward breastfeeding, he said.
First 5 LA Program Officer Andrea Welsing, who works on the Baby-Friendly Hospital initiative and attended the daylong conference, said Bergman's presentation was filled with several “a-ha” moments – such as evidence Bergman presented that showed a newborn's senses of touch and smell are strong and only make sense “in the light of a mother's body.”
“While he is big on the connection between mothers and babies, he does not exclude fathers and other caregivers – and many of his slides at the conference showed fathers, as well as mothers, making that initial connection with the baby,” Welsing observed.
Bergman discussed in depth how DNA and brain pathways are impacted by both separation and connectivity between newborns and caregivers. Separation is stressful, as much of the research he cited shows, and stress increases cortisol in the brain, which disrupts the development of neural pathways, he said. Because humans are wired to be social, critical neurons in the baby's brain fire during that connection – and the skin-to-skin and eye contact also strengthens the bond between caregiver and baby, Bergman added.
Bergman recommends that the baby be placed skin-to-skin on the mother's abdomen immediately. Instead of taking the baby away to be cleaned and checked, he endorses a slower approach: wipe the newborn slowly and quietly while it lies on its mother, cut the umbilical cord only after it stops pulsing, cover the infant and mother so they're comfortable, then dim the lights and allow them to have some private time. However, he does believe both mother and baby need to be watched and observed.
To learn more about Bergman and his practice, visit his website Skin-to-Skin Contact.