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Dad skin to skin with newborn

Skin to Skin Benefits

Skin-to-skin contact, sometimes referred to as kangaroo care, is finally getting the recognition it deserves. The old “you’ll spoil the baby if you hold it so much” has now been disproven time and time again. Skin-to-skin contact helps babies adjust to life outside the womb and supports the mother’s breastfeeding and postpartum journey.

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What is skin-to-skin contact?

Skin-to-skin contact is when the baby is placed on the mother’s bare chest, breast, or even cheek to cheek after birth and left for at least an hour. Skin-to-skin contact is especially important for preemies, as it improves physical and developmental outcomes.

When to Start

Research has shown that what happens during the baby’s first hour of life can maximize its bonding experience with their parents. It is ideal to begin skin-to-skin contact as soon as possible, ideally within the first hour of birth. For moms who give birth via c-section, skin-to-skin can still be done immediately as long as your care team is informed. For NICU babies, it is important to ensure their health and stability first. Once you get the go-ahead from your doctor, skin-to-skin can begin.

The Benefits

Nils Bergman, a perinatal neuroscientist stated that, "the salient stimuli that the newborn timetable requires at birth are the mother’s smell (perhaps reassuring of continuity) and skin-to-skin contact, which will provide touch, warmth, stability, and movement. Essentially, the rich parasympathetic and sympathetic innervation of the skin allows the maternal and newborn autonomic nervous systems to communicate directly."

In the first hours and days of life, skin-to-skin contact encourages deeper bonding while regulating your baby’s temperature, blood sugar, heart rate, and stress hormones. When a newborn is placed on their mother’s chest, they may even make their way naturally to the breast and latch on without any assistance. Skin-to-skin also helps increase mom’s milk production.

Babies can benefit from skin to skin contact for months. Experts recommend at least three months for full-term babies, and six months for preemies.Skin-to-skin contact can take place any time a baby needs comforting or calming or when mom’s milk supply needs a boost.

Infant Massage

The western world is becoming more familiar with beneficial practices that ancient cultures have been utilizing for a long time, one of them being skin-to-skin contact, and another being infant massage. In a study conducted in 2007, premature babies who were given fifteen minute massages three times a day for five days in a row exhibited fewer stress behaviors. Multiple studies have also illustrated the positive effects of massage on weight gain for preterm infants. One study published in The Journal of Perinatal Education showed that infants in a massaged group gained 47% more weight than those in the control group. The massaged babies spent an average of 6 days less in hospital and were discharged sooner.

Infants who were massaged for 15 minutes before bedtime also fell asleep faster than those that were read bedtime stories.

We are only beginning to learn about all the benefits of skin-to-skin contact. Science is now showing evidence of what we as a species have long known, that touch is an integral part of the human experience - and it all begins with skin-to-skin contact.

About the Author
Andrea Syms-Brown, RLC, IBCLC, CIMI
Lactation Consultant
Sources:
  1. Breastfeeding and perinatal neuroscience by Nils Bergman. Supporting sucking skills in breastfeeding infants, 2013 Chapter 2, page 53

  2. Hernandez-Reif, M., Diego, M. & Field, T. (2007). Preterm infants show reduced stress behaviors and activity after 5 days of massage therapy. Infant Behavior & Development, 30, 557-561.

  3. Field, T. (1994). Infant Massage. The Journal of Perinatal Education, 3, 7-14

  4. Cullen, C., Field, T., Escalona, A. & Hartshorn, K. (2000). Father-infant interactions are enhanced by massage therapy. Early Child Development and Care, 164, 41-47.

  5. Field, T., & Hernandez-Reif, M., (2001). Sleep problems in infants decrease following massage therapy. Early Child Development and Care, 168, 95-104.

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