What is the breastfeeding golden hour and what if you miss it?

What is the golden hour?

In the 1970s, French obstetrician Michel Odent noted that newborns instinctively seek the breast during the first hour of life, a period that has since been named the neonatal golden hour. Research shows that protecting this golden hour significantly decreases health risks to infants and mothers, including risks posed by:

  • Hypothermia
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Stress hormones
  • Postpartum depression

It also provides a number of health benefits to the infant, including:

  • Stabilizing infant’s respiratory rate and blood pressure
  • Supporting infant’s optimal brain development
  • Increasing both mother and infant’s “happy hormone” oxytocin
  • Reduced crying for infants
  • Earlier return to pre-pregnancy weight for mothers
  • Increased milk supply

Today, the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that all healthy mothers and babies have uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact “beginning immediately after birth for at least an hour, and until after the first feeding, for breastfeeding women.”

How does the golden hour impact breastfeeding?

The golden hour is especially important for moms who wish to breastfeed, and interruptions may inhibit the crawling reflex. This, in turn, can interfere with the natural development of an effective breastfeeding latch. In essence, skin-to-skin contact during the golden hour awakens an infants nursing reflexes, making protection of this special time key to promoting exclusive breastfeeding. Several studies have shown that babies who had early skin-to-skin contact were “more likely to exclusively breastfeed at hospital discharge, to be exclusively breastfed after discharge, and to breastfeed for longer durations.”

What if you miss the golden hour?

While taking advantage of the golden hour offers a number of health and bonding benefits and certainly improves the odds of exclusive breastfeeding, it’s a luxury not all moms get to experience. A touch and go delivery or even a C-section may disrupt early skin-to-skin contact, but not all is lost. Most hospitals will work to get the baby and mom together at the first possible opportunity and offer lactation support to help make up for lost time. Even after the golden hour, uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact will encourage breastfeeding.

Make the golden hour part of your birth plan.

Most hospitals prioritize skin-to-skin contact immediately after delivery. However, we recommend making your specific desires known to your healthcare provider in a birth plan. A birth plan simply communicates your ideal wishes before, during, and after delivery as well as fallback plans should the ideal be impossible. Be sure to include a section on your breastfeeding goals in your birth plan and make a list of breastfeeding accessories you want to have at the hospital, including nursing pads, lanolin cream, and a nursing pillow.