Skin to skin contact, also known as Kangaroo Care, is the practice of placing a naked (or near-naked) baby with his chest down onto his mother’s bare chest. Research has shown that the earlier (ie: immediately after birth) and more frequently skin to skin contact is made by mother and baby, the more beneficial it is for both of them. The benefits of skin to skin contact are astounding, including the health and progress premature babies make with this kind of care.
Humans have biologically coded behaviors that kick in at birth. A mother and baby pair has an amazing symbiotic relationship that ensures the baby’s survival. Aside from kicking off the bonding experience, skin to skin contact sets off natural, biological processes that contribute to the health and well-being of both mother and child.
For example, newborns placed on their mothers’ belly immediately after birth are able to smell secretions from the areola (which incidentally smell similar to amniotic fluid). If given some time, some babies are able to scoot, move and latch on to the breast for the first time. The areola is like a bull’s-eye target, and the newborn is going for it.
Research has uncovered several benefits of skin to skin contact:
- Skin to skin contact, especially in the first 6-8 weeks, helps infant brain development.
- In general, sit promotes higher initial and long-term breastfeeding success.
- A baby’s temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and more are automatically regulated by having this kind of contact with its mother.
- Sleep and feeding patterns are regulated by the mother’s proximity.
- Babies feel safe being close to its mother, so they cry less and their bodies release fewer stress hormones. Remember, these babies spent the previous 40 weeks feeling safe and secure in the womb.
- Mothers who have frequent skin to skin contact with their babies tend to show more sensitivity to their babies.
- Mothers experience less breast engorgement and anxiety in the first few days following birth.
- Premature babies who are allowed access to Kangaroo Care may experience less distress, and may outgrow the need for oxygen and other medical assistance sooner than babies who had less skin to skin contact.
- Babies who were allowed this kind of contact with either mother or father after a Cesarean cried less and became calm and sleepy more quickly than those babies who were placed in bassinets.
- Babies who start off with a lot of this contact quickly develop trust that their needs will be met.
- Even days and weeks after the birth, it is still beneficial for babies. It is a great way for fathers to bond with their children and give moms a much-needed break, especially if there was a Cesarean birth or there are multiple babies.
Where your baby is born may affect your ability to have immediate skin to skin contact with him or her. While this contact following birth is a typical occurrence in a home or birth center birth, if you are planning a hospital birth, you may want to discuss your wishes with your care provider and find out what protocols are followed after the baby is born. Many hospitals will allow a delay in weighing and bathing babies to allow for initial bonding, but others may not.
Hospital rules could be strict or non-existent around Kangaroo Care following a Cesarean or for premature babies in the NICU, so it will be helpful for you to understand what is possible in these situations. Share your wishes in your birth plan once you understand the hospital’s policies. If immediate/early skin to skin contact is important to you, you will want to be sure your wishes align with your caregiver’s and birth place’s standard of care.
This kind of contact is an easy way to bond with and get to know your baby. It is beneficial for growth and development, and it helps you connect deeply with your child.