You’ve likely heard about the magical moments after birth when mom holds baby skin to skin. This stands in sharp contrast to the old-school routine of separating moms and babies after birth to perform newborn assessments. But is skin to skin contact really important? And if so, what are the benefits of skin to skin contact?
What is Skin to Skin Contact?
Skin to skin contact (SSC) ideally begins at birth and involves placing the naked baby chest down on mom’s bare chest. At the same time, the nurse will cover your baby with in a warm blanket and place a dry cap on her head.
You can place your baby skin to skin immediately during the first minutes after birth. Ideally, baby will remain on your chest for at least one full hour. You can continue SCC for the days and weeks after your baby is born, especially during breastfeeding.
Holding baby skin to skin has now become routine care in many hospitals. Your nurse will most likely encourage uninterrupted SSC with your baby immediately after birth, whether you have a vaginal or cesarean birth. Ask your doctor or midwife if this has become standard care at your birth facility.
Benefits of Skin to Skin Contact
Holding baby skin to skin after birth provides your little one with an array of health benefits, including:
Greater Breastfeeding Success
Babies come with a short-term heightened sense of smell, enabling your little one to sniff out her first meal. When placed on mom’s bare chest, baby will instinctively crawl upwards towards the nipple and begin breastfeeding. In addition, the touch and warmth of your baby simulates the production of the hormones that release breast milk. Thus, when you hold your baby skin to skin immediately after birth, she’s more likely to experience early breastfeeding success (1).
More Stable, Healthier Baby
Skin to skin contact stabilizes your baby’s rapidly changing body in the hours following birth, helping him to adapt to life outside the womb. For instance, infant heart and respiratory rates are less erratic during SCC. Blood pH levels are more favorable (5). Blood glucose levels are higher. And babies held skin to skin also experience better temperature regulation (1).
Having baby close directly after birth enables you to respond quickly to baby’s cues and distress cries. In turn, this responsiveness leads to happier babies. In fact, studies have shown that infants placed in a cot cry 10 times more than babies who are held skin to skin. (1) Further, there’s evidence that the attentive newborn care that occurs with SCC promotes greater health and intelligence later in life (2).
Good for Mom
Skin to skin contact has been found to lower mom’s stress levels, as shown by decreased cortisol in the blood (3). It’s also associated with improved bonding and attachment with your baby. Additionally, SCC is correlated with a lower risk of bleeding and postpartum hemorrhage (4). Moms also report having better pain control, which is likely due to the happy distraction of holding their newborn (8)
Fathers & Skin to Skin
Skin to skin contact isn’t just for moms and babies. Dads — try taking off your shirt and snuggling up with your little one, too! Baby receives many of the same physical benefits from skin to skin when held by dad–with the obvious exception of breastfeeding. For example, skin to skin contact with dad has been found to be as good as incubator care for babies after a c-section (6). And fathers becomes especially important to help initiate SCC in cases where mom is unavailable directly after birth, which can occasionally happen with a cesarean.
Studies also reveal that holding baby skin to skin is highly beneficial for father-child relationship. Dads who do so have less stress and anxiety assuming their new parental role. They also feel more confident interacting with baby during the newborn period (7). Overall, dads who hold baby skin to skin for at least 15 minutes each day for baby’s first 3 days of life are more likely to attach and form a successful father-baby relationship. Dads, don’t miss out on this opportunity to bond!
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(1) Moore, E. R., Anderson, G. C., Bergman, N., & Dowswell, T. (2012). Early skin-to-skin contact for mothers and their healthy newborn infants. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 5, CD003519. http://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD003519.pub3
(2) Francis D, Diorio J, Liu D, Meaney MJ. (1999). Nongenomic transmission across generations of maternal behavior and stress responses in the rat. Science. Nov 5; 286(5442):1155-8.
(3) Handlin L, Jonas W, Petersson M, Ejdebäck M, Ransjö-Arvidson AB, Nissen E, Uvnäs-Moberg K. (2009). Effects of sucking and skin-to-skin contact on maternal ACTH and cortisol levels during the second day postpartum-influence of epidural analgesia and oxytocin in the perinatal period. Breastfeed Med. Dec; 4(4):207-20.
(4) Dordević G, Jovanović B, Dordević M. (2008). An early contact with the baby–benefit for the mother. Med Pregl. Nov-Dec; 61(11-12):576-9.
(5) Mazurek, T. , Mikiel-Kostyra, K., Mazur, J., Wieczorek, P., Radwanska, B., Pachuta-Weiger, L. (1999). Influence of immediate newborn care on infant adaptation to the environment. Med Wieku Rozwoj. Apr-Jun 3(2): 215-24.
(6) Chen, E.-M., Gau, M.-L., Liu, C.-Y., & Lee, T.-Y. (2017). Effects of Father-Neonate Skin-to-Skin Contact on Attachment: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Nursing Research and Practice, 2017, 8612024. http://doi.org/10.1155/2017/8612024
(7) Shorety, S., He, H.G., Morelius, E. (2016). Skin-to-skin contact by fathers and teh impact on infant and paternal outcomes: an integrative review. Midwifery. September 40: 207-17.
(8) Turenne, J. P., Héon, M., Aita, M., Faessler, J., & Doddridge, C. (2016). Educational Intervention for an Evidence-Based Nursing Practice of Skin-to-Skin Contact at Birth. The Journal of Perinatal Education, 25(2), 116–128. http://doi.org/10.1891/1058-1243.25.2.116