Skin to skin initiative helps promote successful breastfeeding

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A new Skin to Skin initiative being used in St. Joseph’s Health Centre, Toronto’s, Family Birthing program is helping to put brand new moms, like Suvi Kusima, on the right track to breastfeeding.

“I feel that this is a natural way for a mom and baby to bond,” said Suvi. “I guess they are quite shocked when they first come into the world so holding your baby skin to skin is very comforting and calming for them, and for moms.”

The practice of placing a healthy, new born baby on their mom’s bare chest as soon as possible after birth helps to initiate breastfeeding, explains Jennifer Bordin, Education Coordinator for the Family Birthing Centre, adding that the mom’s bare chest is the “natural habitat for baby”.

For Suvi, she first learned about practicing skin to skin when her first daughter was born prematurely at St. Joseph’s four years ago. “It was really promoted for us at that time, especially since our daughter spent so much time in the incubator,” said Suvi, who continued the practice right from the get-go once her second daughter was born this past October.

Fathers, or a mother’s support person during delivery, are also encouraged to take part in practicing skin to skin with their newborn, especially if the mom is unable to right away. “For moms that have a caesarean birth for example, we encourage their support person to hold the baby skin to skin immediately in the operating room and support mom to do this as soon as possible in the recovery room, for the duration of their stay (and ongoing),” said Bordin. Skin to skin is encouraged even when the baby is receiving necessary medical interventions, such as getting their vitamin K injection, Jennifer adds.

In the past at St. Joseph’s once the baby was delivered, the health-care team would take the baby to another location in the room, conduct these necessary procedures before bringing the baby – bundled up – for the mom to hold.

Skin to skin ensures that the baby is only wearing a diaper and cap when placed on mom’s chest. Not only does this help with breastfeeding but it also helps to increase the bond and closeness between a mother and her baby. It also helps with stabilizing the baby’s temperature, heart rate and breathing – and benefits both healthy and pre-term babies, like Suvi’s children.

“There is certainly knowledge in the community that we have the Skin to Skin initiative, and that patients expect this,” said Ann Holden, Patient Care Manager, Family Birthing Centre. “It is taught in our pre-natal classes. It is a growing trend, Public Health units certainly recommend it. It isn’t being practiced at all hospitals, so this is one thing that makes us special and puts us ‘ahead of the pack’”.

The proactive approach to implementing this really came out of looking at the big picture and how we could further support breastfeeding, Ann said. “And Jennifer’s expertise with introducing this at another hospital has been a credit to our success with this program, with a smooth implementation.”

Feedback from the staff to date has shown that staff have really embraced this initiative and are continuously working to ensure that babies are placed skin to skin as soon as possible. “Even though it was a change in practice and culture, the staff are very passionate about it,” adds Jennifer.

While breastfeeding is natural and the best source of food for baby, Ann explains that what is important is that moms choose the method that is most comfortable for them when feeding their baby. In addition to the many ways we support and promote breastfeeding, Ann says that “we also support a mother’s informed choice. We want to give our patients a great (birthing) experience and (supporting informed choice) is part of that. At the end of the day, we are here to provide families with the knowledge and education they need to make a decision that’s best for them.”

In addition to the Skin to Skin initiative other breastfeeding-friendly practices in place at St. Joseph’s include:

Encouraging breastfeeding on demand – having moms and babies together in one room during their post-partum recovery supports breastfeeding at anytime

All nursing staff on the unit are required to take a breastfeeding course so they can provide the necessary support to new families

A prenatal breastfeeding class, called Planning for Success, is offered for expectant moms, in addition to our pre-natal education classes

Access to a lactation consultant is available on the unit

Breastfeeding Circle, which allows moms on the unit to come together, share experiences, ask questions and learn more about breastfeeding

Outpatient Breastfeeding Clinic is available by appointment after discharge

Jennifer’s implementation of the Skin to Skin initiative at St. Joseph’s and her ongoing dedication to patient and family-centred care led to her being the first recipient of the Lilly Ferraro Award for Nursing Excellence in Family-Centered Care, presented during Nursing Week celebrations earlier this year.

“I think that all parents should be encouraged (as we have during our experiences at St. Joseph’s) to practice skin to skin,” said Suvi. “It may be something you want to do instinctively but may not do with everything else that is happening after your baby is born – so encouragement (and education about the benefits) is helpful.”