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Skin to skin contact with baby
newborns

skin-to-skin contact with baby: what it is, the benefits, why it's important & how to do skin-to-skin

3 minutes

10/12/2018

In the lead-up to a baby’s arrival, new parents are bombarded with all kinds of information on how to ensure their new baby has the best start in life.

While this of course has its benefits, the flipside is that it can really pile the pressure on parents to do everything ‘right’, even stuff that is totally out of their control. Below you can find more information on this important topic from experts and parents.

  • 1. What is skin-to-skin contact?

  • 2. First skin-to-skin contact with your baby

  • 3. What is Kangaroo Care?

  • 4. Benefits of Kangaroo Care / skin-to-skin contact with baby

  • 5. Why is skin-to-skin contact important after birth?

  • 6. Skin-to-skin and breastfeeding

  • 7. Benefits of Kangaroo Care / skin-to-skin contact with dad

  • 8. How to do skin-to-skin

  • 9. Practicing safe skin-to-skin positions

  • 10. How long should you do skin-to-skin for?

  • 11. Kangaroo Care when you can’t hold your baby

1. What is skin-to-skin contact?

‘Skin-to-skin’ contact with baby (generally meaning when a naked baby is placed directly onto the bare chest of its parent) is meant to be the number one priority as soon as our baby is born. You’ve probably seen photos of celebrities doing this on Instagram (like The Rock) without realizing that’s what they’re doing.

But as we all know, births don’t always go to plan and immediate skin-to-skin sometimes isn’t a possibility. For instance, you or your baby may have needed more immediate attention directly after birth. In this case, you can still bond with your baby through holding hands, stroking and giving them a gentle massage. We’ll talk more about this later on.

2. What is Kangaroo Care?

Now you know a little bit more about skin-to-skin contact with baby you might now be thinking ‘so what exactly is kangaroo care?’ Kangaroo care is another name for skin-to-skin, and encompasses the practice of an infant being laid direct on their parent or caregivers’ bare skin. Kangaroo care has many benefits and can be done throughout infancy.

3. First skin-to-skin contact with your baby

“I got to hold Devan for less than a minute after he was first born as he’d swallowed a lot of meconium and they wanted to do some tests,” says mom, Asha. “I struggled to breastfeed him at first and wondered if it was because we’d missed this important bonding moment, but I just tried to do skin-to-skin as much as possible in the weeks after his birth and can look back on it much more positively now.”

Skin-to-skin contact with your baby actually has huge benefits for babies (and parents) during the first weeks and even months of their life, so directly after birth definitely isn’t the only chance you have! We will explain the benefits of kangaroo care later.

4. Benefits of skin-to-skin contact with baby

In the first few months after your baby’s birth, try to do skin-to-skin as much as possible, even for parents who managed it straight after birth, as according to the Mayo Clinic, benefits of kangaroo care/skin-to-skin contact with baby include:

  • Regulating baby’s breathing, heart rate, oxygen levels and temperature

  • Keeping the baby feeling warm and calm

  • Decreasing maternal breast engorgement (painful build-up of milk)

  • Decreasing the chance of postnatal depression

  • Helping the baby breastfeed

Other benefits include :

  • Helping mother and baby recover from birth

  • Helping to protect the baby from infection

  • Helps both mom and dad bond with the baby by releasing hormones like oxytocin, prolactin, and endorphins

  • Helps production of colostrum (the first milk that is full of nutrients that protect baby) to flow more easily.

  • Helps the baby gain weight quicker

A lactation specialist suggested more skin-to-skin contact and after a few days I definitely felt we were a bit more in-tune with each other, and I had more patience and more success with feeding.

A lactation specialist suggested more skin-to-skin contact and after a few days I definitely felt we were a bit more in-tune with each other, and I had more patience and more success with feeding.

5. Why is skin-to-skin contact important after birth?

Is skin-to-skin with baby really that important straight after birth? Immediate skin-to-skin contact after birth is a natural and large part of the bonding process between baby and his/her caregivers, but particularly the mother. It entails the being placed on the mother’s bare chest directly after birth if possible. If the mother is unable to provide immediate skin-to-skin care, then the dad or another caregiver can step in.

Skin-to-skin also builds parents’ confidence in looking after their baby; this is important, as research shows that the number of mums who feel confident about looking after their baby drops by nearly 10% in the first few days of bringing them home. For more information on the benefits of skin-to-skin and cuddles, check out our bonding with baby article.

And if that’s not enough, research has found that skin-to-skin can boost brain development in babies, and is particularly important for premature babies, who may have spent a significant chunk of their early life in a medicalized environment.

6. Skin-to-skin and breastfeeding

One of the main benefits of skin-to-skin contact is that it can help with breastfeeding. During those first moments after the birth, your baby will enter a period of relaxation, where they display very little movement as they recover from the birth. The baby will then instinctively move towards the breast, where they will self-attach and begin to feed. It is important not to rush this process, as it can take some time for baby to familiarize itself before latching on. If they are enabled to familiarize themselves with their mother’s breast and achieve self-attachment, it is very likely that they will recall this at subsequent feeds, resulting in fewer breastfeeding problems.

Parents in bed with baby

7. Benefits of Kangaroo Care / skin-to-skin contact with dad

Don’t just take our word on this, hear from a WaterWipes dad about the benefits of skin-to-skin as a dad. “I used to struggle to bottle-feed Leah,” says Matt. “A lactation specialist suggested more skin-to-skin contact and after a few days I definitely felt we were a bit more in-tune with each other, and I had more patience and more success with feeding.”

For more tips and advice from dad about bonding, check out our dad and baby bonding article.

8. How to do skin-to-skin

Now you’ve got the theory covered, let’s move on to how to do skin-to-skin properly with your baby. Firstly, skin-to-skin care can be practiced in several ways. This includes immediately after birth or during your hospital stay, which usually entails placing the baby on your bare chest, between the breasts. However, it can also include any skin-to-skin contact throughout the first few months of life. From naps at home together to quick cuddles on the go, you can practice kangaroo care anywhere by wearing a loose-fitting top or a button-down shirt and placing your baby underneath your clothes against your skin. There are also various skin-to-skin tubes and baby carriers that allow you to practice kangaroo care safely in your day-to-day routine.

9. Practicing safe skin-to-skin positions

Practicing skin-to-skin safely is very important. A good position to adopt for skin-to-skin and feeding your baby is a ‘half lying, half sitting’ or ‘semi recumbent’ position, so that you can always see your baby’s face. Your baby’s head should be turned to one side, with their nose and mouth visible and not covered, and shoulders should be flat against your chest.

10. How long should you do skin-to-skin for?

The Academy of Pediatrics recommends practicing kangaroo care for as long as possible and as frequently as you can for the first three months of your baby’s life, especially for those born prematurely. You can absolutely carry on practicing it for longer though if you and your baby are enjoying it.

11. Kangaroo care when you can’t hold your baby

Births don’t always go to plan, and sometimes mothers aren’t able to participate in skin-to-skin immediately after the birth. We shouldn’t forget the value of skin-to-skin with dad where it isn’t possible with mom. A small 2007 study showed babies cried less and calmed quicker on receiving kangaroo care from their dad whilst the mother was in recovery post c-section, compared to babies kept in a bassinet for this time. If your baby is being looked after by doctors and not able to participate in skin-to-skin, hand holding, stroking, a gentle massage, and oral colostrum administration are alternative ways of bonding with your baby.

So, all that’s left to do now is get down to some serious snuggling and skin-to-skin time with your baby. And really, what could be better?

For more insights into aspects of the fourth trimester check out our other articles on the Parenting Hub:

References
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