Recently there has been a lot of hype about skin to skin contact, or you may have heard it called kangaroo care. Many hospitals are starting to make skin to skin contact a part of their normal birthing routine because of the huge benefits.
What is skin to skin contact?
Skin to skin contact is where you place your baby unclothed, with just a diaper on, on your bare chest under a blanket. This can be done immediately after birth or even once you go home.
Anyone can do skin to skin contact, mom or dad, and all you have to do is remove your shirt and place your naked baby on your bare chest. Make sure to cover up baby’s back with a blanket so she doesn’t get cold. Also, leave a diaper on her so she doesn’t pee or poop on you.
What are the benefits of skin to skin contact?
There are a lot of benefits to skin to skin contact. Once you learn about all the benefits you will wonder why skin to skin contact is just now becoming something that hospitals find important and are just now starting to do.
- Helps baby maintain temperature. When they are still in your womb, you are controlling your baby’s temperature with your body temperature, but once they are born, they have to regulate their own temperature now. Skin to skin contact helps them maintain their temperature because you are warm, helping to keep them warm. This even helps with premature babies.
- Helps baby stabilize vital signs. Because babies can listen to your heartbeat and it calms them, skin to skin contact can help your baby stabilize her vital signs. This includes heart rate and breathing rate. This is also helpful with premature babies.
- Blood sugar regulation. Blood sugar is what gives your baby some of her energy. Because your baby doesn’t have to use all the energy she gets from eating to maintain her temperature, she uses less glucose, meaning she is able to better regulate her blood sugar.
- Boosts mental development. Because it helps stabilize vital signs and temperature, this means increased oxygenation to the brain and improved sleep, helping your baby’s brain develop.
- Promotes breastfeeding. Babies who are held skin to skin are able to smell moms breastmilk and even find the breast on their own. The calm that mom experiences when holding her baby this also helps with let down. Lastly, skin to skin contact has been shown to increase breastmilk production. All of these combined help you to breastfeed your baby for a longer period of time.
- Promotes healthy weight gain. When babies are held skin to skin they do not have to use the calories they get from eating to stay warm, thus they are able to use it to grow. Also, as previously mentioned, if they are hungry they can find the breast, instead of you guessing when it is time to feed your baby.
- Improved gut health and immunity. Being held skin to skin helps baby’s digestive system mature by stimulating the vagal nerve. It also reduces the risk of infection because babies who participate in skin to skin contact become colonized with bacteria from mom’s skin, which mom then produces antibodies to these bacteria, which are passed to the baby through breastmilk. Therefore, skin to skin contact improves immunity.
- Reduces baby’s response to stress and pain. Just 10 minutes of skin to skin contact can decrease the amount of the stress hormone cortisol and increases the release of the feel good hormone oxytocin. One study even showed that premature babies who were held skin to skin reacted less to heal sticks.
- Reduces Crying. Another study showed that just three hours of skin to skin contact per day can reduce crying by up to 43 percent.
- Better sleep. Because skin to skin contact helps reduce stress, studies have shown that premature babies who were held skin to skin slept more deeply and woke less often than those kept in an incubator.
- Promotes bonding. Skin to skin contact can help bonding between baby and mom and even baby and dad. Babies crave closeness, and holding your baby skin to skin will allow you to be more intune to your baby’s cues. It can even help dad bond with the baby as well.
- Helps prevent postpartum depression. Skin to skin contact not only releases oxytocin and decreases the release of cortisol in babies, it does this for mom too. This helps prevent postpartum depression.
When do I do skin to skin contact, how often, and how long?
There is no set time limit on how often and how long you do skin to skin contact. You can do it as long as you and your baby can tolerate. If you feel like you may fall asleep, because it will calm you, make sure you put your baby in a safe place while you nap. The more often you do it the more benefits you will experience. I suggest several times a day for the first few weeks for a term baby. For preterm babies it has been suggested that it can be beneficial for up to the first 20 weeks after birth.
It is more beneficial the sooner you do it though. It is suggested that skin to skin contact be initiated right after birth. Most hospitals actually place baby right on moms chest as soon as it is born. This can be done with a vaginal delivery or a cesarean delivery. If you want skin to skin contact following birth, make sure you talk to your doctor about the hospital policies. If you are going to have a cesarean section don’t let your doctor tell you that you can’t have skin to skin contact.
Did you initiate skin to skin contact right after birth, or do you plan to ask your doctor about it for your next baby?