Benefits of skin to skin
Why it’s important for everyone
Cry less. Sleep better. Two things every parent wishes for in their baby. There is now so much research on the benefits of skin to skin for babies that it just can’t be ignored. So just what do we mean by skin to skin? What are the benefits? And when and how should you do it?
The Golden Hour
The first hour after birth is often called the Golden Hour. This is such a special time we will cover this in detail in a blog all of its own in coming months. But first – skin to skin.
Immediately after birth, baby laid on Mum’s chest, with no clothing, blankets or towels in between. Baby should be in a vertical position, and both Mum and baby covered with a blanket. Ideally, you should be left like this for at least an hour. Don’t worry if one or both of you drift off – that’s normal.
Skin to Skin Benefits
There are a huge number of benefits to skin to skin contact, particularly in that Golden Hour it:
- Increases dopamine and oxytocin levels in mum and baby, calming and relaxing both of you and reducing the potential for postpartum depression
- Helps regulate baby’s heartbeat and breathing, getting them acclimatised to life outside the womb
- Regulates baby’s temperature
- Transfers friendly bacteria from Mum to baby, providing increased immunity and protection against infection
- Helps establish breastfeeding and bonding by stimulating hormone release
NeoNatal Skin to Skin – Kangaroo Care
For premmie babies Skin to Skin is even more important. Skin to skin contact has been shown to:
- Reduce the cortisol levels in both baby and mum
- Improve oxygen levels in baby’s blood
- Help with growth – so important in those tiny premmies
- Help encourage pre-feeding reflexes that might be interrupted by the need for tube feeding
- Improve Mum’s milk supply, which can drop when expressing to tube feed baby
If your baby is premmie, it may be difficult to manage the Golden Hour skin to skin, but even a few minutes can help. If the doctor or nurse needs to take blood or do other tests, sometimes they can be done while in the skin to skin position. If it’s really not possible, don’t worry – there will be time to catch up once baby is safely taken care of.
Once your baby is in the Neonatal ward it is a great idea to continue skin to skin. This is known as ‘kangaroo care’, and it has been proved to improve the health outcomes for premmie babies in just about every area – from brain development, to better sleep patterns to stabilising organ function. All these improvements lead to shorter hospital stays – and that’s great for both baby and parents.
Skin to Skin and Caesareans
It might be a bit trickier if you have had a Caesarean. But it is even more important than for babies born vaginally.
During vaginal delivery the mother’s body passes on a whole host of good bacteria to the baby, which colonise in their gut and provide them with immunity and resistance to illness. This doesn’t happen in a Caesarean.
So how do you go about taking advantage of that Golden hour after birth if you’re having a Caesarean? Here are a couple of tips:
- Ask for the screen to be put up as far down body as possible, allowing you room to hold the baby on your chest afterwards
- Ask for any drips to go in your non-dominant hand so you are able to hold your baby securely
- There will be monitor leads attached to you to keep an eye on your vitals. Ask if they can be put on your back, rather than your chest, leaving you clear to hold your baby afterwards.
- Remember skin to skin means just that. If someone suggests putting a towel on your chest because baby is wet or messy, it won’t have the same effect – so feel free to say no to the towel.
How to Skin to Skin
Once you are past that ‘golden hour’ immediately after birth, you can skin to skin with your baby as often as you like – when baby is unsettled, or needs calming or comforting, or just because you want to. And it’s as easy as sitting in a chair!
- Prop yourself upright in a chair. Make sure you are supported and comfortable. Once you get started you may be there a while!
- Baby should be in a nappy only – or a beanie if it’s cold
- Place baby on your naked chest in a vertical position
- Support the baby with both hands and cover both of you with a blanket to keep you warm
- If you want you can rock, sing or talk to baby. Whatever feels natural to you
- Aim for around 30 minutes – but feel free to sit as long as you like! Don’t worry about the chores that aren’t getting done. Nothing is more important than your bond with your baby!
And it’s not Just for Mums…
Not only is Skin to Skin not just about breast feeding, but it’s not just for Mums. New research shows that skin to skin contact with Dad or partner can have just as many benefits for both Dad or partner and baby.
Skin to skin with Dad will provide baby with contact to all the bacteria on Dad’s skin – helping further with immunity. But perhaps the most important factor is the bond that it creates. This is not only good for baby – but good for Dad. And Mum.
As with mum, skin to skin will decrease cortisol and increase dopamine and oxytocin in dad. It will also reduce testosterone. The effect of all this will be a decrease in anxiety, better bonding and, studies have shown, a more sensitive approach parenting. Most importantly, it will increase Dad’s confidence – allowing him to support Mum more effectively.
Better Late than Never
If everything goes awry – or if you already have your baby and are just reading this – don’t despair. With Skin to Skin, it is a case of better late than never. You can start skin to skin contact at any time in your baby’s life and you will still see many of the benefits. So, any time in the first few months of your baby’s life – get that skin to skin happening.
If you would like to talk about Skin to Skin, or any other aspect of pregnancy, birth and mothering, I would love to chat, so please: