If you're pregnant, you've probably heard about the golden hour. You know, that magical hour when you're supposed to enjoy bonding, breastfeeding, and skin-to-skin baby snuggles. It's the hour that, arguably, prepares you and your baby for postpartum life. So what happens if you don't get one? What if you can't, or don't want to, do the things you're told you're "supposed to do" after your baby's born? If you miss out on the golden hour will you be unable to bond with the life you've been carrying inside your body for 40 (more or less) weeks?
Fortunately, the answer is no. Being a good mom doesn't depend on having the perfect hour following birth, or even on giving birth at all. And for some people, the golden hour isn't actually all that "golden." Ironically, my oldest son — who I ended up breastfeeding the longest and feels such a close bond with me he pretty much would touch me all day long if he could — was whisked away to the NICU right after he was born. I only held him for a split second, and no one even bothered to give me an update on his condition for hours after he was taken from me. I was terrified, and so damn worried I had completely messed things up from the start. Fortunately he was fine, and we had plenty of time to bond (and I had plenty of opportunities to actually mess up) later.
In my conversations with other moms, I've heard mixed reviews of the golden hour. Some people felt helpless or disappointed about missing out on an experience that's been hailed as "the best thing ever" and that's reportedly super important when it comes to bonding with your baby. Others honestly thought that the golden hour was just another way our culture shames moms who don't meet our romanticized expectations of perfect motherhood and a perfect birth. I guess, like so many other things in parenting, when it comes to the golden hour your mileage may vary.
"A golden few seconds is more like it. [My babies] were breathing well, so I got to hold them, and then they were whisked away to their little warmers. I had a C-section, so I went to recovery. My eldest son was born hungry, and screamed for an hour and a half after trying to breastfeed. I kept trying to nurse for 17 hours, until I was producing blood, and he was inconsolable. I gave up and got some formula at 1:00 a.m. in the morning. Honestly, I've had way better moments with them than their first hours. By my second pregnancy, I tried not to be sold on those sorts of expectations like I was with my first."
"My baby was born at home with complications. He was taken by ambulance to the hospital, and my husband and midwife went with him. I had to stay behind at home until I was able to urinate. I don't know how long it took, but it was well over an hour before I was able to leave home to meet him at the hospital. I had no idea how bad things were. I had my friend drive my car to the hospital, because I thought I was going to bring him home with me later that day. When I arrived at the NICU, there was a room full of babies, and I didn't know which one was mine. I couldn't tell and needed a nurse to show me where my own newborn was."
"With my first I had a golden five minutes, but then the nurse kicked everyone out of the room and left me completely alone with this new human with no way to call for help for over an hour. I had no idea what I was doing and was still recovering from the epidural and birth. I was barely 20 years old and so frightened, and baby just cried and wouldn't latch and I didn't know how to help him. It was pretty awful. I didn't get to experience the golden hour after my second pregnancy, either. My twins were delivered via C-section nine weeks early. It was four or five hours before I got to hold their wee hands through the doors of their isolettes after they were born."
"When my first was born, there was so much drama (I had split up with her biological father at this point) that my golden hour was spent worrying and being frustrated and fearful about calling her father to let him know she was born. With number two, I missed the golden hour altogether because he was a preemie and required a little extra help, so he was whisked off to the NICU. I got him back about three hours after birth, but the pain meds from my C-section were wearing off and it was bittersweet. Snuggling, but trying to nurse while the nursing was making my uterus contract, was difficult."
"Can I tell you about our anti-golden hour? (I hate the way certain mom groups romanticize it). I got to touch my babies once, with the tip of my finger about two hours after they were born, and didn't get to touch them again for about two and a half weeks. It killed me whenever people would wax rhapsodic about that precious golden hour and how it was essential for baby and mother bonding. It was probably a full year after they were out of the NICU before mention of the golden hour didn't make me tear up, and then it just pissed me off. NICU mothers feel guilty enough. I hate how unrealistic bonding notions fuel the fires of that guilt."
"My first was born at 35 weeks, and she was whisked off to NICU while I hemorrhaged. My second was an emergency C-section, with an Apgar of two, and she was rushed off to NICU. The most heartbreaking part for me was when (after my first baby was born) they wheeled me after birth to my new room, and I was encouraged to press the 'Lullaby' button on my way. (Where the whole hospital gets to rejoice and hear that a new baby was born.) It was horrible. I kept sobbing and worrying about my child who wasn't with me."
"My response to the golden hour was mostly just stunned exhaustion the first time (most notably, my daughter peed on me), and the second time I had an emergency C-section where they put my baby on me while they tied my tubes and closed up, but the table was on a slight incline with my head down and so basically my daughter was just mashed up on my neck making it hard to breathe. I'm glad I got the opportunity, but it was an odd experience rather than a bonding one. I remember thinking that I was supposed to be rapturously happy, or at least super emotional, but both times I was more just stunned."
"I had C-sections, so I didn't hardly see my kids for an hour or more after they were born. Especially the premature one. I was in the ICU with the morphine shakes, while doctors took care of my son in the NICU. My husband would go see him and report back. It sucked. I was doped up and scared. It was several hours before I was wheel-chaired up to see him. Even though we were told he was as healthy as he could be at two and a half months early, he was so small. We did a lot of crying those first few days. He eventually came home a month later.
My second was brought to me fairly quickly after the surgery. I couldn't lift her on my own and they didn't want her staying in the bed with me. I remember being so happy to see her and being stressed I would not be able to breastfeed again. That, thankfully, turned out to not be true. I don't remember much of it, truthfully. The whole experience was very uncomfortable, and I couldn't wait to get home."
"I was kind of excited at the thought of having my daughter all cuddled up to me after delivery and so on, and then she was born at shift change. Most of my memory of that golden hour is full of contempt for 'nurse grabby-hands,' as I call her. All she was concerned with was getting done what she needed to get done so she could leave. She could have assessed my daughter while she was on my chest, but no, I got a few minutes with my her and then basically said, 'Fine, take her,' because she wouldn't stop asking for her. I had such a longing for that special time. My daughter was brought back to me all clean and wrapped up, and she nursed well, but I spent most of that hour just plain annoyed. My moment felt ruined. I am thankful I had what I had, especially since after that all she wanted to do was sleep, but that moment has always bothered me."
"I didn't get an immediate one, due to a last-minute, necessary C-section. They let me look at my son when they pulled him out, but I was shaking hard from the anesthesia and didn't trust myself to hold him.
By the time we all got back to the room, the doctor was fiddling around doing all sorts of random newborn stuff. I asked more than once to hold my baby, and finally my mom used her stern mom-voice to ask how much longer it was going to be (there were no medical complications preventing my holding him). The doctor finally snapped to attention, and nicely handed babe over pretty quickly. After that, we were left basically alone aside from room service for three days. It was marvelous and mostly made up for the few hours of wrenching pain, fear, and that out-of-body feeling prior."
"I only had about 10 minutes with my daughter before I was rushed to the operating room. There was enough time for my midwife to milk colostrum from me (dignity gone), as they were prepping me for surgery. As I was rushed out, my partner took off his shirt and he had skin-to-skin with our daughter. This was far from the experience I expected and hoped for, but I am so glad that she was able to have that time with at least one of us. I think it was also really important for my partner to have that experience, too. He fed her my colostrum, and soothed her with his finger.
When I got back two hours and 45 minutes later, she was dressed, wrapped, and fast asleep in his arms. I got to hold my baby, and she latched right away, but we didn't get those first few hours. I really hope things go differently the next time around. I so badly want that golden hour for myself, with no stress or commotion. But daddy is the next best thing."
"I don't think I had one. I had a C-section, and the spinal started wearing off as they were sewing up my uterus. I said, rather urgently, 'I can feel that,' until they injected something into my IV that knocked me out. Next thing I knew I was in my hospital room demanding to know where my baby was."
"I had a brusque, sarcastic male nurse trying to give me a crash course in latch and breastfeeding that was somewhat traumatizing. Of course I was coming out of 26 hours of labor, and four hours of pushing, so I was loopy."
"I ended up having an unplanned C-section after I failed to progress and developed a temperature. My blood pressure sky rocketed afterwards, and I ended up on Magnesium for 24 hours. I barely remember the lactation consultant coming in and trying to help my baby latch. We ended up syringe feeding through a feeding tube that was placed in a nipple shield on my breast. I syringe-fed formula like that for a week until my milk came in.
I never got a golden hour. I only saw my baby when he was pulled out and once when I was in recovery. I don't even remember the first time I got to hold him. It was a pretty traumatic experience and nothing like I imagined, but in the end we both turned out fine. When I was writing my birth plan I knew that it was really only a wish list. Making sure we were both healthy and safe was the most important part."
"I don't have much good to say about it. My son was four weeks premature and born with low blood sugar. There was concern about his ability to breathe, so he was first stabilized, and then they wanted him to eat right away because of his low blood sugar. I struggled to get him to latch and was discouraged from offering a bottle, despite his pre-maturity.
It was a stressful time, and as I was trying to help my poor, giant boy latched onto my inverted nipple, my now ex-husband was mincing around the room, wringing his hands because his mother hadn't been able to see the baby yet. I wish I'd had the balls to say that his brand new son had low blood sugar, and I needed to get food into him, and to tell him and his mother and his whole family to f*ck off into the sunset."
"I had a very traumatic birth. He was 10 pounds, 25 inches long ,and facing the wrong way. My nurse was a sadomasochistic. No really, she enjoyed seeing how much pain I could endure until someone else checked on me. I was in so much pain that I begged my husband to kill me. So, 24 hours post-water break, I had a high fever, and they finally figured out the baby was facing the wrong way. So, they wanted to haul me in for a C-section. I literally said, 'F*ck you. You're not going to torture me for over 24 hours and then cut me open.' They told me to get on all fours to try to get the baby to turn, which I did. He was out with the next contraction.
Immediately after he was out they cleaned him up and handed him to me, but I didn't like anyone at that moment. Absolutely no one. I was angry. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was suffering from medically induced Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), so I was literally in shell shock from the trauma I'd just been put through at the hands of professionals. The baby went to the NICU and my treatment continued to be horrific. As a disclosed sexual abuse survivor, I could not have felt more victimized. The nurse knew my history and took pleasure in using it to torture me. I asked nicely for the creepy guy with a cold to be removed from my service, but nope. I was powerless. Needless to say, I didn't have a golden hour with my son, and he was in the NICU for a week or so fighting the infection he received."
"With our son, we thought based on his ultrasounds that he could possibly have a problem with his aorta. I had a planned C-section with him, although the 'plan' moved up by one calendar day when I went into labor. We only got to cuddle him for a few minutes before they sent him off to the NICU for echo cardiograms. Thankfully, his heart is great, and I got to hold him the next day when I could get up. I wouldn't even change anything. The moment of holding him for the first time was perfect the way it was."
"Mine was spent being sewn up and trying to make sure I puked accurately in the tray to my left while trying to look at the calm, wide-eyed baby being held by my husband next to my head on my right side, except I could hardly move my head. For an emergency C-section, we were very lucky he didn't need any immediate attention, and they brought him to us in recovery about a half hour later. I needed help to hold him (finally), because I was shaking so much as the drugs wore off. I know people who have had C-sections under general anesthesia and have experience far more grave situations, so I just felt lucky to be awake and that both of us were alive. I think building up hopes for things like a magical birth and a 'golden hour' just set women up for disappointment, frankly."
"I was honestly just trying not to barf for the majority of my golden hour. I get nauseous really easily anyway, especially from surgery and health-related anxiety, but I was also sleep-deprived and food-deprived for almost two days, drugged up, and had just had a (somewhat unplanned) C-section. I had a much more lovely bonding session that following morning, TBH, especially after I chugged a Starbucks DoubleShot for the first time in months."
"For all three of mine the first hour involved the after birth, being sewn back up, and my babies being 'worked' on. The golden hour seems like something only healthy moms and babies get, and when we're told we can never get that back, I think it can really hurt some moms. Why can't 18 hours after birth, while my baby looked at me and we hung out, be our golden hour?"