Skin-to-skin contact refers to the practice of placing your baby, belly down upon your chest or abdomen, with no clothes in between. The first time a parent makes skin-to-skin contact with their baby is immediately after birth. Doing so boosts parent-baby bonding and makes the baby feel warm and secure.
Experts encourage frequent and longer skin-to-skin contact to help the mother and the baby reap its lasting benefits. If you are a new mom or soon-to-be one, knowing about the benefits of having skin-to-skin contact with the baby can be insightful.
This post shares about skin-to-skin contact and its benefits for you and your baby.
What Happens During Skin-to-skin Contact?
About 15 to 45 minutes postpartum, the mother’s oxytocin levels rise, stirring positive maternal feelings (1). Experts recommend utilizing this time to make skin-to-skin contact with the baby. During this time, the mother cherishes her baby’s soft touch and smells, strokes, and engages with them. Doing so relaxes the mother-baby duo, causing a further surge in oxytocin production that boosts milk production.
On the other hand, the newborn placed on their mother’s chest hears their mother’s heartbeat and experiences her warmth. It makes them feel comfortable and relaxed, which is why they cease crying and fall asleep. But when the mother makes sounds, babies respond by moving their arms, shoulders, and head briefly. They also explore the breast area, which is vital to learn self-attachment and begin breastfeeding (2).
What Are The Benefits Of Skin-to-skin Contact?
Benefits for the baby
- Less crying: Research shows that babies who have skin-to-skin contact with their mothers immediately after birth tend to cry less than those who don’t (5). The mother’s touch and warmth reassure the baby, calming them down and making them feel safe.
- Prompt breastfeeding initiation: During skin-to-skin contact, babies explore their mothers’ breasts and learn to self-latch by nuzzling, smelling, and licking around the breast area. It helps the baby find the nipple, latch, and begin breastfeeding. Experts state that a baby who latches to their mother’s breast after birth is less likely to have breastfeeding issues.
- Better thermoregulation: Newborns can’t regulate their body temperature as adults do. It is why they can lose their body heat four times faster, increasing oxygen use by ten percent (6). To avert this cardiorespiratory load, experts suggest encouraging skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth. Research shows that skin-to-skin contact for an hour is equivalently effective as a radiant warmer (7).
- Good bacteria transfer: Other than the birth canal, skin-to-skin contact is a way to transfer bacteria from the mother’s skin to the baby. This transfer of the mother’s bacteria supports the development of the baby’s immune system, which is necessary to fight infections.
Furthermore, skin-to-skin contact could help stabilize the baby’s glucose levels, help cardiorespiratory functions, and support healthy growth in the long run. Skin-to-skin contact is referred to as “kangaroo care” when given to babies in intensive care. It can provide the following additional benefits.
- Improved oxygen saturation
- Reduced stress (reduce cortisol levels)
- Enhanced baby growth and development warranting reduced hospital stay
Benefits for the mother
- Adequate milk supply: Skin-to-skin contact boosts oxytocin and prolactin release in the mother’s body. These hormones facilitate breast milk production and supply, necessary for optimum availability of breast milk.
- Less anxiety and stress: During skin-to-skin contact, the mother’s body releases several hormones, such as oxytocin, prolactin, and endorphins (feel good or happy hormone). These hormones create a surge in maternal emotions that strengthen the mother-baby bond. Also, they relax the mother, reduce anxiety and stress, and make her feel loved. All these effects are essential to reduce the risk of postpartum depression, which several mothers experience.
- Better communication: When mothers spend time in skin-to-skin contact with their babies, they understand their hunger and satiety cues better. They also learn to spot their baby’s signs of discomfort early, making mothers confident enough to trust their instincts for their baby.
Besides these benefits, the release of oxytocin hormone during skin-to-skin contact causes the uterus to contract and reduces bleeding. It facilitates better postpartum recovery and healing.
Do Dads Need Skin-to-skin Contact Too?
Yes, just like mothers, dads should also have frequent skin-to-skin contact with their baby. It will help regulate the baby’s body temperature and heartbeat. Besides, it will stir in paternal instincts making the father feel more confident, responsible, and protective toward the baby.
When a father holds the baby skin-to-skin, it strengthens the dad-baby bond, necessary to develop trust and security. Later, this bonding helps the father feed their baby comfortably while the mother catches up on some rest. During cesarean deliveries, dads are usually the first ones to have skin-to-skin contact with the baby.
How Long To Continue Skin-to-skin Contact?
There is no definite time limit for having skin-to-skin contact with your baby. According to experts, having frequent skin-to-skin contact in the first few months after birth can help keep your baby calm. You may aim to have maximum skin-to-skin contact during each breastfeeding session.
Babies may respond differently as they grow older. If you notice your baby becomes restless or tries to move away during skin-to-skin contact, then perhaps it is time to give them some space. You could probably switch to other forms of bonding, such as cuddling and playing along with your baby.
Skin-to-skin contact with the baby is an important practice offering several essential benefits. Both the mother and the father should have frequent skin-to-skin contact with their baby, especially during their initial months. Keeping your baby close to your skin not only calms them but also allows them to reap some long-term health benefits.