The arrival of a newborn is a momentous occasion filled with joy and excitement. From the moment your baby arrives, you naturally are driven to provide them with the best care possible and protect them.
One of the first things you can do as a new parent to help your child is skin-to-skin contact. Skin-to-skin contact is well known to be very beneficial for babies and is a great bonding tool for parents too. Through the practice of skin-to-skin contact, you can give your child numerous benefits that are important to their immediate well-being as well as their future health.
In this article, we will explore the amazing benefits of Skin-to-skin contact and why this nurturing act is so beneficial for you and your baby.
What is Skin-to-Skin Contact?
Skin-to-skin contact, is also known as kangaroo care, and involves placing your naked baby directly against your bare chest or abdomen. This practice is often initiated immediately after birth and can be a powerful way to bond with your newborn while also providing significant health benefits for both the baby and the parent.
A blanket is then placed over you and your baby to keep them warm and it is a beneficial practice that can take place immediately after birth and continue as frequently as you wish.
In a nutshell, here’s what skin-to-skin contact typically involves:
- Immediate Contact: As soon as possible after birth, the baby, who is dried and cleared of any immediate medical concerns, is placed belly-down directly on the mother’s bare chest. A blanket can be draped over the baby’s back to keep them warm.
- Regulating Baby’s Body Temperature: The parent’s body heat helps regulate the newborn’s temperature more effectively than an incubator.
- Stabilising Heart Rate and Breathing: Skin-to-skin contact can help stabilise the newborn’s heart rate and breathing. It’s believed that the rhythmic sound of the parent’s heartbeat and the rise and fall of their breathing can regulate the baby’s own functions.
- Encouraging Breastfeeding: Babies held skin-to-skin right after birth are more likely to latch on to the breast and breastfeed effectively. It also stimulates the release of hormones that support breastfeeding and mothering.
- Boosting Immunity: The close contact exposes the baby to the bacteria on the parent’s skin, which can colonize the baby’s skin and gut, helping to build a healthy microbiome and immune system.
Skin-to-skin contact is not just beneficial after a natural birth; it’s also encouraged after a cesarean section, as long as the mother is stable and alert.
How to do skin-to-skin contact
Usually, skin-to-skin happens after birth when the baby is placed directly on the mother’s abdomen or chest. However it is also a great tool to practice during your hospital stay and when you are at home too, ideally with both the main caregivers of the baby.
- Get your baby ready by undressing them gently. They can wear their nappy, and any socks or hats to help keep them warm but otherwise be naked.
- When practicing skin-to-skin contact with your baby it is ideal to be sitting down, naked from the waist upwards. Wearing a top that is easy to open makes things easier. If you are in a hospital gown make sure to put it on with the opening in the front.
- Place your baby on your chest in an upright position with their head on your chest.
- Cover you and your baby with a blanket over your baby’s back to keep them warm and snuggly.
- Relax and breathe normally. Enjoy this time with your baby and allow them to rest and even fall asleep.
Skin-to-skin contact is practiced throughout the world in many cultures and is promoted by the World Health Organisation because of its excellent health benefits. Let’s look at some of the brilliant benefits of skin-to-skin contact with your newborn baby.
How many times a day should I do skin-to-skin with my baby?
In the hours, days, weeks and months to come, you can carry on doing skin-to-skin with your baby whenever you want to, and for as long as your baby is happy with it.
The frequency of skin-to-skin contact with your baby can vary based on personal circumstances, but many experts recommend engaging in this practice as often as possible during the newborn phase. Here are some general guidelines:
- Early Days: In the first hours and days after birth, aim to do skin-to-skin as soon as possible and as frequently as you can. This helps establish breastfeeding and bonding. The World Health Organization recommends that newborns have immediate skin-to-skin contact for at least an hour as soon as they are born and after they are stable, provided there are no medical complications.
- First Weeks: During the first weeks, you might continue skin-to-skin several times a day. It can be particularly beneficial during feeding times, as it encourages breastfeeding and helps both mother and baby to relax.
- Routine Practice: Some parents incorporate skin-to-skin into their daily routine, doing it for periods throughout the day. It can be a soothing practice for both the baby and the parent, especially during fussy periods or when the baby needs comforting.
- Duration: There’s no strict rule for how long each session should last. Some parents do it for 20-30 minutes, while others might enjoy skin-to-skin contact for an hour or more. The key is to ensure it’s a relaxing and bonding experience for both.
Remember, the goal of skin-to-skin is to benefit both you and the baby. It should be a comfortable and enjoyable experience, so it’s important to listen to your baby’s cues and your own needs.
Benefits for you and your newborn
Stabilises Heart Rate and Breathing
By placing your newborn baby on your bare skin you can assist in stabilising their heart rate and breathing. Your baby will feel the warmth of your skin and when placed on the mother’s chest, hear the familiar sound of her heart.
This can aid the baby’s heart rate and help to bring their heartbeat and breathing to a steady rate. This can be especially beneficial for premature infants and is recommended before the use of an incubator by the World Health Organisation.
Enhanced Bonding and Attachment
Skin-to-skin fosters a profound emotional connection between you and your baby. The warmth, touch, and scent of your skin are reassuring and calming to your newborn and creates a secure attachment that is crucial for their emotional development. This bonding experience can reduce stress for both the baby and the parent, by promoting feelings of trust and safety.
From the moment your baby is born they will look to you for protection and guidance, so establishing a safe and secure attachment is vital to their future development.
Regulates Body Temperature
Newborns are unable to regulate their body temperature and once they are outside the womb they struggle to keep their body temperature steady. Newborn babies lack body fat, regardless of what you may think about their birth weight. Therefore kangaroo care helps to keep your baby warm and cosy. Your body temperature will naturally adapt to the needs of your baby, helping to prevent them from becoming too cold or overheating.
However, you should always keep an eye on your baby’s temperature and general health during skin-to-skin contact.
For mothers who choose to breastfeed, skin-to-skin contact can greatly improve the chances of a smooth breastfeeding practice especially during the early stages. When you place your newborn on your chest they will instinctively seek out the breast and initiate feeding. Make sure to give your baby plenty of time to look for the breast and root for the nipple, and guide them into a suitable breastfeeding position. Additionally, skin-to-skin contact can enhance milk production for the mother and improve feelings of calm.
Pain Relief and Reduced Stress
Skin-to-skin contact has been shown to alleviate pain and stress in newborns. When in direct physical contact with their parents, babies experience lower levels of the stress hormone and are more likely to feel calm and relaxed.
Improved Sleep Patterns
It is well known that newborns do not have the best sleep schedules, which can be challenging for parents. Keeping this practice regular can help improve your baby’s sleep quality and duration. It promotes feelings of calm, reduces anxiety, and helps to regulate their circadian rhythms, which can lead to longer periods of sleep.
Boosts Immune System
Allowing your baby to be close to your skin exposes the baby to the beneficial microbes present on the parent’s body. This natural microbial transfer can help strengthen the infant’s immune system and protect against certain infections and therefore kickstart their immune system.
Skin-to-skin contact is a beautiful and nurturing practice that offers many benefits for your newborn baby. This intimate connection between parent and child enhances bonding and emotional well-being and also supports physiological stability and overall health. It is a wonderful practice that is shared around the world and is especially beneficial to help premature babies.
Skin-to-skin contact is an effective way to provide comfort and care to your newborn during the first few days of their life. Consider incorporating skin-to-skin contact into your daily routine, and make the most of these precious moments of calm and closeness with your newborn.