You may have heard about skin-to-skin contact. It refers to the moments when baby is placed bare onto mom’s chest or abdomen. It starts immediately after birth and should be done frequently as baby grows.
We know this bonding process is important for mother and baby.
In nursing school, we call it “kangaroo care.” Early on it had been prioritized for premature babies, but we now recognize it’s good for all babies. This is one reason the golden hour is so important.
If mom isn’t available for skin-to-skin time, dad can always step in to help. There are many physical and emotional benefits to this unique bonding experience.
Great for baby
New babies benefit from skin-to-skin contact in several ways:
- It’s comforting. A new baby finds calmness in mom’s heartbeat during skin-to-skin time. This can also encourage breastfeeding.
- It’s regulating. Skin-to-skin closeness helps regulate a baby’s heart rate, breathing, blood sugar and temperature. As a new baby adjusts to the world outside the womb, it’s important for him to regulate his temperature. Mom can help baby achieve this better than any machine ever could.
- It’s conditioning. Skin-to-skin contact allows baby to be colonized by mama’s bacteria, which is thought to help prevent allergic diseases. Babies have this on them from their time in utero. They’re exposed to mom’s good bacteria when they’re delivered vaginally. Moms who deliver via C-section have the option to seed their baby with their bacteria. Exposure to good bacteria also happens with skin-to-skin contact.
- It’s soothing. Babies are less likely to cry if they have skin-to-skin contact. The embrace they get is a bit like what they experienced in utero. Studies have shown that babies who get skin-to-skin contact in the weeks following birth are less likely to cry.
- It’s healing. Some studies have found that babies who are provided skin-to-skin contact seem to experience less pain after the various post-delivery procedures.
Great for mom
Moms gain from skin-to-skin care, too. Here’s how:
- Better milk production. Yes, it can even help promote milk production. Babies go through nine steps after birth, and skin-to-skin helps with these.
- Better mood regulation. Skin-to-skin can increase the release of oxytocin, which can help combat postpartum depression. This release of oxytocin also speeds mom’s recovery time and helps her feel better overall.
- Better bonding time. Moms who make time for skin-to-skin care after the birth of their baby are likely to touch and cuddle the baby more.
According to the International Breastfeeding Centre, skin-to-skin helps mother and baby exchange sensory information that encourages baby behaviors, such as “rooting and searching the breast, staying calm, breathing more naturally, staying warm, maintaining his body temperature and maintaining his blood sugar.”
Kangaroo care may play a role in a child’s development well beyond their infant and toddler years. The benefits may even be seen past age 10.
In 2014, researchers published the results of a decade-long study that looked at the effects of kangaroo care on premature babies. They found favorable developments in infants who had an hour of skin-to-skin contact each day in the first two weeks of life.
How did researchers discover this? There were two study groups—one involving 73 moms who used skin-to-skin care for their premature babies, and the other involving 73 premature babies who underwent “standard care” in an incubator.
Researchers checked in with the children at regular intervals as they grew.
By age 10, the babies who had received skin-to-skin care slept better, had a more mature nervous system and displayed better reasoning skills. Similarly, a Canadian study found that 15-year-olds who had skin-to-skin had better brain function.
These are all great reasons for mom and baby—and dad and baby, too—to spend time cuddling.