What Happens in Baby’s First Hour, According to the Neuroscience of Birth

ZERO SEPARATION on screen and a packed room.

Birth, defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is the emergence of a new individual from the body of its parent. It is a magical moment, when a mother and a baby first meet. After nine months of waiting, a new mother gets her first chance to hold her baby in her arms, to kiss the tiny forehead and nowadays, to snap a shot of the the newborn and post it on social media.

While everyone knows infants need to bond with their mothers early on, Dr. Nils Bergman told us that what happens during the first hour of a baby’s life can maximize that bonding experience between a mother and a child.

Calling himself a Public Health Physician, Dr. Bergman launched a mother-baby skin-to-skin revolution. He said at a recent SDCBC seminar, “Skin to skin unlocks the neuroscience.”

Raised in Zimbabwe, Dr. Bergman enjoys the wildlife in Africa, the layered, interconnecting jungle where everything functions in relation to everything else. Dr. Bergman told us, “The brain is a jungle, not a computer. There are more synapses at birth than stars in the universe.”

What happens in the first hour after birth matters to what goes on in the baby’s brain. Early experiences fire and wire the brain, activate the genetic inheritance, lay the foundation on which higher circuits will be built later on.

Early experience depends on the baby’s environment. The environment can tell a baby’s DNA,
“The world is safe. Eat, rest, grow, connect. Oxytocin flows through the circuitry.” 
“The world is not safe. Be on guard, vigilance is needed. Cortisol courses through circuits.” 
So what is the environment a human baby expects at birth?

Seminar attendees practice "skin-to-skin" with one another.

At the time when I was born, mother-child bonding took a back seat to medical procedures immediately following a baby’s birth. My mom watched me be handed to a nurse who examined and weighed me, cleaned me up, put on a diaper and swaddled me in a blanket. After all of that, my mom finally got to hold me. But she didn’t hold me for long before I was moved to the nursery. (Not I remember all of these, but according to my mom.)

When my son was born, health care providers already knew that skin-to-skin contact within the first hour is the best way for a newborn and mother to bond. My baby was placed in skin-to-skin contact with me after weighing and measuring. The medical caregiver and the nurses conducted the first physical assessment of him while he was on my chest. Bathing, injections and blood test waited until the first round of breastfeeding was established. We remained together throughout the recovery period.

Now, Dr. Bergman recommends “ZERO SEPARATION.”

Yes, zero separation! Weighing and measuring should also wait after the first feeding. Dr. Bergman told us, “In the nursery the baby is helpless. But when we leave the baby where nature intended, the baby is totally competent.”

Where the nature intended for the baby is the mother’s body. The case of zero separation simply reduces the toxic stress that disrupts brain architecture and leads to life-long consequence. “When a baby is on the mother’s body, everything makes sense.” Dr. Bergman said, “And raising a healthy baby is much easier than fixing a broken man.”

The youngest attendee of the seminar.

*This is an original post for San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition's newsletter.