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  • Writer's pictureSusan Martin

Your Baby's First Hour after Birth

Something magical occurs in the moments after birth.  When placed on its mother’s body, the newborn baby starts to move through a series of behaviors that will ultimately end in the first breastfeed. A baby knows how to do this, if we would only let them. All mammals know how to breastfeed and humans are no exception. Our only difference from other creatures is that as beings that live and grow in social environments with cultural constructs, we just can’t help ourselves from intervening in ways that may make sense to us, but make no sense at all to a newborn human. Thus, this sacred time after birth for the new family is often disturbed or interrupted unconsciously, most often by health professionals doing routine procedures. 


The time post birth is often dubbed “the Golden Hour” and Dr. Raylene Phillips, a neonatologist at Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital, calls it the “Sacred Hour.” What happens in the moments and minutes immediately after the birth sets up an imprint on the new baby that can last a lifetime affecting them in body, mind and spirit. The moments post birth are also exquisitely sensitive for the new mother. Not interfering in the process of the first meeting outside the womb between baby and mother can help to set her up with a flush of hormonal help to ease her transition to motherhood and bestow in her a feeling of self-confidence.


Understanding that this time has importance and that you and your baby deserve to be not only safe, but also completely surrounded by conscious respect for this first face-to-face meeting creates a container for an optimal start to new life with your child.  Your baby is so smart and when placed in his safe place, your body, he will begin to orient himself and show you what he can do. As a parent, you can watch with wonder at what your baby is capable of. 

Here are the nine steps all healthy newborns will go through after birth when left undisturbed with their mother:


1. Birth cry: Right after the birth, a baby has a big job to do – to breathe air for the first time to sustain life. Upon finding himself in a whole new world, the baby  also needs to first alert the mother of his presence. In many birth settings, a care-provider receives the baby first and then places the baby on the mother. In our ancestor’s time and even in modern times in a free birth, a baby may be birthed onto the floor below. The birth cry not only helps to open baby’s lungs initially, but also gets his mother’s attention so she picks him up if he is not already in her arms.

2. Relaxation: When the baby is in his right environment (on his mother’s body and he can be covered by a warm blanket or towel), the crying is brief and he will settle in a quiet and still space. Baby is adjusting to finding himself in a whole new place. It’s different out here! Being with mama feels safe – she is the only world he has ever known. Being with her and on her body allows him to let go and settle in after the major exertion of birth.

3.  Awakening: What is this new world I find myself in, he wonders? Baby begins to open his eyes and become more aware of his new place in the world. His head and shoulders start making small movements. His instincts for survival move into his mouth where he will find sustenance next now that he longer receives this through the umbilical cord and placenta which came in through his belly - you may see this awareness of mouth movement begin.

4.  Activity: Baby’s awakening deepens into more movements and purposeful activity. His eyes are more open. Babies sometimes instinctively move their head and eyes to look into mama’s (one of my favorite things to watch in the time post birth). We are social beings and primed to make contact with each other – you can see this right at birth. This gets alternated with more rooting (bobbing head with mouth movement to find the breast) – baby is figuring out what’s the next step.

5.  Resting: This is all a lot! Just like we may take a rest on a hike, a baby may need a few moments to rest here and there in his process of moving from birth to breastfeeding. This can occur at any point and more than once in the process. This doesn’t mean your baby doesn’t know what to do or has given up. Be patient and hold space for your little one. No one should be rushing the baby to the breast for the first feeding. It can cause disorientation for a baby and frustration for those adults wanting to get him onto the breast (often unsuccessfully) because we are not listening to his process and expecting him to be farther along than he really is. Respect the rest.

6.  Crawling: Baby’s innately have a stepping crawling reflex which allows them to push with their feet and slide toward one of mama’s breasts. The Montgomery glands in the areola (the dark circle around the nipple) smells like amniotic fluid, which is also on baby’s hands from his time in the womb. You may see your baby’s head moving toward his hand and then away – it’s part of his orientation of where to go. Watch your baby lift their head and torso and push with their feet and make their way in their own time over to your breast. For some context, this may not start until 35 minutes after birth, but every baby is different so you'll have to see what your baby does.

7.  Familiarization: Baby made it to the breast – woo-hoo! In the transition from breast crawl to familiarization, baby needs time to figure it all out. This is new. Many times there is some overshooting of baby’s head as he tries to find the nipple area with lots of head bobbing and mouth movements. It’s pretty fun to watch. Once there, he checks out his new way of sustenance by licking, touching, massaging. It can take 45 minutes to get to this point and then this stage can take awhile, too (every baby is different, but it can be around 20 minutes). Patience is key again. Rushing baby to the breast and trying to get him to nurse means his tongue is not yet ready (it’s high in his mouth). Force is not necessary. Trust him to latch when he is fully ready. 

8. Suckling: And finally he’s on – success. He latches onto the breast using the bottom of the mouth, his tongue low and in just the right place. From the moment of birth, it takes about an hour to get to this very special moment of your baby’s first breastfeed. Baby went from having all things given to him through the placenta (which is a navel orientation) to figuring out a way to sustain himself through his mouth and the life-giving milk of mama’s breasts.  

9.  Sleeping: It’s been a big job to be born, adjust to this big new world and (finally!) figure out how to breastfeed. Your baby is, understandably, tuckered out. About 1.5 – 2 hours after birth, a baby falls into a well-deserved slumber.


You can observe these nine stages yourself after your baby is born. Many health care providers (including midwives) are unaware of these stages and there is often a rush to get the baby to breast or frequent interruptions that occur (such as vigorous rubbing with towels, jostling and moving baby or mother, routine procedures). Since this is an impressionable time for the new little human being, being aware of protecting this sacred space can make a big difference in your baby’s transition. If this process is important to you, then communicating with your provider during pregnancy about your desire to have this process supported can be a wise step to take.

If you given birth, what was your experience of the breast crawl and self-latching for your baby? I never got to experience this (it wasn't known during that time) and I really

wanted to have another baby after learning about it. Well, having a third child wasn't part of my path, but I really love helping other families know about this process and hearing about their experiences. I also love observing and facilitating the process. When at a birth and witnessing a baby go through the nine steps, I notice that watching their baby move through this process gives parents a beautiful sense of pride in their newborn child and a strong belief in their baby’s ability.


If you would like to share the evidence about this process with your care provider, here’s a copy of Dr. Phillip’s The Sacred Hour:

Download PDF • 939KB

You can learn more about this process (and they have a video for purchase) at the The Magical Hour.



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