I've been planning this Midwife Motivation Monday post on skin to skin contact for a while.
It was a bit of a 'meh' post (people bang on about skin to skin all the time) but I wanted to write it because skin to skin contact is really important. Supporting skin to skin is also a lovely bit of being a midwife and worth celebrating.
But I had no idea that a new, totally surprising fact about skin to skin was about to (almost literally) float in on the breeze, just in time for me to write about it today.
So....I hope as you're reading this you've had a good time in your practice since we spoke last. Or if you're working towards becoming a midwife, I hope your passion for midwifery is pushing you through those essays and assignments. I hope you know how important you are to women and their families. And if you've had a hard week, I hope this post will remind you of some of the lovely midwifery stuff.
Onto skin to skin, that wonderful activity that I thought I'd never get to on my crazy shifts this week. (Don't ask. The babies were all giving a clinical impression of being little monkeys. They wouldn't get into any kind of obliging position to get born. Anyone would think they didn't want to come out and see me.)
We'll start with the basics:
- After birth, babies should be placed skin to skin with mum, with a blanket and a hat, to keep warm (a nappy is a good idea. Poo explosion imminent, especially if they start feeding).
- Cry less
- Stabilise their breathing easier
- Stabilise their heart rates better
- Stabilise their blood glucose better
- Breastfeed better
So, you likely knew a lot of that info. On to the really interesting stuff:
Science is just starting to get interested in human pheromones. 'Pheromone' just means a chemical animals and insects make to have an effect on another of their species. You know the (fairly sexist) Lynx adverts? That's the image of pheromones we all have. But human pheromones haven't been researched very well. We just haven't had the courage to investigate the slightly embarrassing smelly areas of human anatomy in a scientific and systematic way.
It turns out there might be tons of different human pheromones that have a multitude of effects, and a good place for researchers to start was with human mums and babies.
Have you ever wondered why some babies seem to latch on no problem? And some you have to gently persuade over the course of a few days, mum getting totally frustrated that the baby doesn't get how to feed? It might be that pheromones have a big role to play in instinctual breastfeeding behaviour.
Skin to skin contact may work well at getting some babies to breastfeed because mothers produce a particular pheromone from their alveolar glands. Doucet et al (2009) found that if you wave these pheromones around under baby's nose, the baby will increase its respiration rate, and even in a sleeping state, start to mouth and move its head around to feed.
This 'rooting' response happens when babies smell this pheromone, even when babies have been artificially fed. So this response is not a learnt behaviour - it's an instinctual response to the pheremone. Check out the pictures from the study and hover your mouse over to see what's happening.
You can see a video from a TED lecture here (if you're short on time just watch from 11:40, it'll take you 3 minutes and it's totally worth it to see what our breastfeeding future holds....)
The pheromone appears to work on all babies, and mums who secrete more of this pheromone breastfeed easier. Especially when getting breastfeeding established.
So perhaps one day we'll have a big bottle of pheromone to spray on all babies on postnatal ward to get them rooting!
The study is really fascinating, and I love the it in the lecture when the researcher references a look of 'connoisseurs' delight' on the faces of the babies...
Anyway, I hope you found this stuff as interesting as I did.
If you liked the post, please 'like' it and share it! Best of luck with all your midwifery stuff this week!