Birth parents are typically separated from their newborns following a cesarean section. However, a recent study published in the journal Nursing Open suggests immediate skin-to-skin contact may accelerate uterine contractions, reduce maternal blood loss, reduce newborn crying, improve patient satisfaction and comfort, and increase the rate of breastfeeding.
“[O]ur study contributes to scientific knowledge with key information to reduce maternal morbidity and mortality rates in mothers who have undergone scheduled cesarean sections,” José Miguel Pérez-Jiménez, MD, of the faculty of nursing, physiotherapy, and podiatry at Hospital Universitario Virgen Macarena, University of Sevilla, Spain, and colleagues wrote in their study. It promotes greater stability in the mothers by reducing the risk of postpartum hemorrhage, making it better to not separate mother and child in the first hours after this surgery, he said.
Pérez-Jiménez and colleagues evaluated 83 women who underwent a scheduled cesarean section in an unblinded, randomized controlled trial. The women were randomized to receive skin-to-skin contact in the operating room that continued in the postpartum unit, or the normal protocol after cesarean section that consisted of having the mother transferred to the postanesthesia recovery room while the newborn was sent to a maternity room with a parent or companion. Researchers assessed variables such as plasma hemoglobin, uterine contractions, breastfeeding, and postoperative pain, as well as subjective measures such as maternal satisfaction, comfort, previous cesarean section experience, and newborn crying.
Women who received usual care following cesarean section were more likely to have uterine contractions at the umbilical level compared with the skin-to-skin contact group (70% vs. 3%; P ≤ .0001), while the skin-to-skin group was more likely to have uterine contractions at the infraumbilical level (92.5% vs. 22.5%; P ≤ .0001). There was a statistically significant decrease in predischarge hemoglobin in the control group compared with the skin-to-skin group (10.522 vs. 11.075 g/dL; P ≤ .017); the level of hemoglobin reduction favored the skin-to-skin group (1.01 vs. 2.265 g/dL; P ≤ .0001). Women in the skin-to-skin group were more likely to report mild pain on a 10-point visual analog scale (VAS) after being transferred to the recovery room (1.48 vs. 6.23 points; P ≤ .0001) and being transferred to a maternity room or room in the postpartum unit (0.60 vs. 5.23 points; P ≤ .0001). Breastfeeding at birth was significantly higher among patients with immediate skin-to-skin contact compared with the control group (92.5% vs. 32.5%; P ≤ .0001), and continued at 1 month after birth (92.5% vs. 12.5%; P ≤ .0001). Newborns of mothers in the skin-to-skin group were significantly less likely to cry compared with newborns in the control group (90% vs. 55%; P ≤ .001).
When asked to rate their satisfaction on a 10-point Likert scale, women in the skin-to-skin contact group rated their experience significantly higher than did the control group (9.98 vs. 6.5; P ≤ .0001), and all women who had previously had a cesarean section in the skin-to-skin group (30%) rated their experience at 10 points compared with their previous cesarean section without skin-to-skin contact.
Implementing Skin-to-Skin Contact After Cesarean Delivery
Betsy M. Collins, MD, MPH, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Emory University, Atlanta, said in an interview that while some of the findings were largely unsurprising and “confirmed a lot of the things that we already know about skin-to-skin [contact],” one major finding was the “stark difference” in the percentage of new birth parents who started breastfeeding after skin-to-skin contact and were still breastfeeding at 1 month postpartum compared with birth parents in the control group. She was not involved with the study and noted that the results complement recommendations from the World Health Organization on starting breastfeeding within the first hour after birth and continuing breastfeeding through the first 6 months of life.
“That was likely one of the greatest take-home points from the study … that early skin-to-skin really promoted initiation of breastfeeding,” Collins said.
Two reasons why skin-to-skin contact after cesarean section isn’t regularly provided is that it can be difficult for personnel and safety reasons to have an extra nurse to continue monitoring the health of the newborn in the operating room, and there is a lack of culture supporting of skin-to-skin contact in the OR, Collins explained.
“Just like anything else, if it’s built into your standard operating procedure, then you have everything set up in place to do that initial assessment of the infant and then get the baby skin-to-skin as quickly as possible,” she said. If it’s your standard operating procedure to not provide skin-to-skin contact, she said, then there is a little bit more inertia to overcome to start providing it as a standard procedure.
At her center, Collins said skin-to-skin contact is initiated as soon as possible after birth, even in the operating room. The steps to implementing that policy involved getting the anesthesiology department on board with supporting the policy in the OR and training the circulating nursing staff to ensure a that nurse is available to monitor the newborn.
“I think the most important thing to know is that it’s absolutely doable and that you just have to have a champion just like any other quality initiative,” she said. One of the best ways to do that is to have the patients themselves request it, she noted, compared with its being requested by a physician or nurse.
“I think some patients are disappointed when they have to undergo cesarean delivery or feel like they’re missing out if they can’t have a vaginal delivery,” Collins said. Immediate skin-to-skin contact is “very good for not only physiology, as we read about in this paper – all the things they said about the benefits of skin-to-skin [contact] are true – but it’s really good for mental health. That bonding begins right away.”
As a birth parent, being separated from your newborn for several hours after a cesarean section, on the other hand, can be “pretty devastating,” Collins said.
“I think this is something that, once it becomes a standard of care, it will be expected that most hospitals should be doing this,” she said.
The authors and Collins report no relevant conflicts of interest.
This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.