A new mother cradling her naked baby against her skin is one of the most natural gestures in the world. Numerous studies carried out show the vast benefits of this skin-to-skin contact from that first moment after birth. It calms and relaxes both mother and baby.
Findings by Canadian researchers published in the Journal of Obstetric, Gynecological & Neonatal Nursing revealed that babies given access to their mother’s skin tended to have more stable temperatures, heart rates and gastrointestinal function, and they slept more, cried less and grew faster.
The study found that skin-to-skin contact helped to prevent symptoms of depression after childbirth as the intimate contact promoted the mother’s production of oxytocin, a hormone that boosts maternal feelings and a positive mood.
“The close contact also helps a mother recognize and become familiar with her infant’s signals, which leads to more sensitive maternal response,” says study author Ann Bigelow, Ph.D., a professor of psychology.
Skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth also allows the baby to be colonised by the same bacteria as the mother, thought to be, along with breastfeeding, extremely important in the prevention of allergic diseases.
While many hospitals realise how vital this type of contact is immediately following birth, mothers-to-be should make sure maternity staff know their wishes to have skin-to-skin contact straight after the baby is born so that weighing, measuring and cleaning is not carried out until after this has happened.
If your baby is born by Caesarean section, it should still be possible to have skin-to-skin contact straight after the birth.
Some births involve complications that mean it may be delayed but your doctor or nurse can help you have skin-to-skin contact as soon as possible and in the meantime, your partner will be able to have skin-to-skin contact.
Mothers with babies being cared for in a neonatal unit in hospital after the birth will probably be encouraged to try Kangaroo Care, where, when ready, the baby is held against her skin regularly, usually under clothing.
This has proved important for bonding, increasing milk supply, fighting infection, maintaining baby’s temperature and can help reduce their need for extra oxygen.
Babies who have skin-to-skin contact with their mother for at least an hour immediately after birth are more likely to latch on for breastfeeding without any help.
There is a unique process babies are naturally programmed to follow when placed skin-to-skin which leads to a first breastfeed. After birth, babies who are placed straight onto their mother’s chest will cry briefly then will enter a stage of relaxation.
The baby then will wake up and begin to crawl towards the breast where she will rest for a while before finally attaching. If not interrupted, this can help to set a pattern for all subsequent feeds.
Babies experiencing regular skin-to-skin contact have been shown to be more likely to breastfeed exclusively and for longer.
Your baby will be happier if you keep them near you and feed them whenever they are hungry and this skin-to-skin contact helps to remind the mother’s body to produce plenty of milk.
Not only this, but the regular intimate contact will help to comfort you and your baby over the first few days and weeks as you get to know each other.
Skin-to-skin contact is not just advantageous for newborns, it is something you can continue to do for as long as you both want to.
Having that intimate contact and time together can be calming and reconnect you both, especially with today’s fast pace of life.
Why not try taking a bath or shower with your baby, or simply try sitting on the sofa and reading a book or gently singing to her. Baby massage is also an excellent way to connect with your little one.
If your baby is becoming disinterested in breastfeeding, skin-to-skin contact can encourage her to try again. The longer babies are kept close to their mothers, the more likely they are to breastfeed.