After a premature delivery, Midwife Jenny Clarke witnessed twins stabilising on their mother using skin-to-skin contact rather than being rushed to an incubator. From that point on, through twitter, blogging and public speaking, Jenny has been on a mission to empower and educate parents and midwifes on the benefits of skin-to-skin contact.
The light bulb moment came, Jenny said, when she heard Dr Nils Bergman speak at a conference in 2008. He is a doctor with a special interest in perinatal neuroscience and a promoter of skin-to-skin contact between a mother and her newborn.
Jenny Clarke has been a midwife since 1993 but it wasn’t until she heard Dr Bergman speak at a conference about the benefits of skin-to-skin contact that she fully understood the importance of immediate contact between a mother and her newborn baby on the newborn’s brain and the mother’s ability to parent. “On the mother, the baby is happier, the baby’s temperature, heart, breathing rates and blood sugars become stabilised,” she explained. Just two days after Dr Bergman’s conference, Jenny was with a woman who was having a Caesarean section for premature twins. The neonatal unit was closed and there were concerns about the possibility of the twins developing hypoglycaemia and hypothermia. Jenny chatted to the mother and the paediatrician about skin-to-skin contact and showed them both the evidence that Nils had researched. They all reached an agreement about initiating skin-to-skin contact. Immediately at birth the twins were gently placed on the mother’s chest. The twins’ blood sugars were maintained, their temperatures stayed normal and their breathing stabilised. The babies were on the mother’s chest for more than three hours. “Everything went brilliantly and the paediatrician was suitably impressed and the mother was overwhelmed with love by the experience,” Jenny said.
From that moment on Jenny became a skin-to-skin ‘addict’. “The culmination of these events; hearing Dr Bergman speak, witnessing the happiness it brought to the mother and the stability it gave to the children, gave me the confidence to start shouting from the rooftops.” The years went by and Jenny moved to another hospital, continuing to promote the practice wherever she could. Jenny shared the evidence about skin-to-skin informing colleagues, mothers and families and even writing “IS THE BABY IN SKIN-TO-SKIN?” on the theatre white board. She noticed her message kept getting wiped off and became increasingly frustrated, so in a moment of madness Jenny took some stepladders and a marker pen, climbed up and wrote across the wall “IS THE BABY IN SKIN-TO-SKIN?” and put big hearts either side. She smiled with a mischievous grin as she recalled, “The anaesthetist went bananas at the time but we are still good friends to this day and he is now an advocate of skin-to-skin.”
Jenny was already on Twitter as @JennyTheM so she started to tweet about #SkinToSkin. At the same time she put work into her blog and started to write articles for nursing and midwifery journals. Jenny’s aim has always been to promote the benefits of skin-to-skin thereby challenging general, traditional practices of putting children straight into cots. “At first I was a bit nervous about using social media as a midwife but it genuinely felt like a whole new world had opened up for me of like-minded individuals. What I also loved was the fact it instantly broke down the hierarchical structure ever present in healthcare. I was speaking to doctors, anaesthetists, theatre staff, nurses and midwives – we were all on a level playing field.” Her blog also started to attract attention, sparking conversations locally and then around the world.
Jenny is a keen public speaker and loves to promote the practice of a positive birth experience for women as well as why skin-to-skin is important in any birth setting. She is currently speaking at different conferences each year, delivering webinars and initiating Twitter discussions. All of this is done in her spare time, attending the majority of conferences during her annual leave. She said, “When you are passionate about something and have a chance to influence others in a positive way then just jump at the opportunity, even if means eating into your holiday time. It is also a great way to meet and connect with other current and future midwives.”
Her focus is on the well-being of others, empowering mothers and giving babies the best start in life. She is a mentor to future midwives, promotes the benefits of skin-to-skin and also debates how staff can challenge the status quo. She calls it ‘compassionate rebelliousness’. She acknowledges rules and procedures are in place for safety but, “As a midwife your focus is on the mother and newborn child and some rules are now quite outdated.” Jenny is happy that skin-to-skin is now a well-known phrase and that new parents across the country are asking about it. She is also proud to be part of a movement that is strengthening the bond between parents and children, one that delivers the immeasurable benefits from the moment of birth.