Benefits of Parent-Baby Skin-to-Skin Contact

Newborn Baby Lying on Mother

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The simple act of being skin-to-skin with your baby after birth has many therapeutic effects for you and your baby. Because of these substantial health benefits, many hospitals have policies that not only permit but encourage you to be skin-to-skin with your baby after birth.

Overview

This skin-to-skin policy may be called something different depending on where you are, but basically, it is simply uninterrupted time for you to hold your baby close soon after birth. The baby is usually wearing a diaper and is placed against your bare skin on your chest or stomach. A blanket or sheet may be draped over you both if added warmth is desired.

Skin-to-skin care is routinely recommended for a minimum of one hour but can certainly last longer if desired. Additionally, the practice is beneficial even if it lasts for a shorter period. (Many doctors and lactation experts recommend continuing the practice with your infant on a regular basis.)

The skin-to-skin contact gives you the opportunity to physically bond and relax with your baby. During this time, you may also begin to breastfeed, if that's your choice. In addition to just being a pleasant way to welcome your baby to the world, skin-to-skin care provides a host of other advantages.

Health Benefits

The numerous health benefits of having skin-to-skin contact with your infant include the following:

Provides Warmth

Your skin acts as a radiant warmer and will keep your baby at the ideal body temperature. Simply lay your baby on your skin (the abdomen or chest work well). Dry the baby off while there and put warm blankets on you and baby, as needed. If the blankets get wet, ask someone to help you switch them out.

Normalizes Breath

Babies who are skin-to-skin with mom after birth breathe more easily and more rhythmically. This is thought to be because they are able to hear your heartbeat, lulling them into calmer breathing. They feel your breathing as well, which may help them to replicate your steady breathing.

Soothes Your Baby

The comfort of being with mom leads to babies who cry less after the initial cries at birth. They have always been held, just inside the body. Having someone they recognize the sound and smell of is important for helping them feel secure.

Soothes Mom

You've just given birth, an experience that often comes with a flood of intense sensations and emotions, such as elation, pain, wonder, fear, stress, and love. You may have had a relaxed and "easy" birth or a more dramatic, chaotic, or even scary birth. Physical contact with your baby can soothe you both and provide an opportunity for reflection, bonding, and relaxation.

Taking time for skin-to-skin contact allows time to reset, process your birth experience, and relish in the baby you have made—and just met.

Encourages Breast Milk Production

Having a baby on the mother's chest encourages increased release of the hormone oxytocin in the mother, which stimulates breast milk production and stronger uterine contractions. (These contractions are needed to deliver the placenta and shrink the uterus back down to normal size).

When babies are skin-to-skin after birth, they are also more likely to nurse and nurse longer. Research shows this contact results in earlier initiation of nursing and more successful breastfeeding. This can lead to a better breast milk supply, as well. Due to the stimulation of oxytocin, this benefit occurs even if the baby doesn't breastfeed immediately during the skin-to-skin time.

Reduces Maternal Anxiety

Studies have shown that skin-to-skin time may reduce maternal anxiety as well as the incidence and severity of postpartum depression. Additionally, mothers who participate in skin-to-skin care often report lower stress levels and more positive feelings and confidence about motherhood.

Stabilizes Your Baby's Vital Signs

All of the above benefits of skin-to-skin care add up to a baby who is more likely to have stable vital signs, including optimal body temperature and heart rate. A happy, relaxed baby is usually a healthy baby in terms of transitioning from the womb. Touch is known to provide calming effects—and even reduce pain—and both you and your baby will enjoy this benefit.

Type of Birth

Skin-to-skin contact with the baby can be beneficial for all types of births, assuming your baby's condition is stable, as most full-term babies are at birth. However, this bonding time can be done even after more complex births and for preterm infants.

Skin-to-skin care is accessible, free, and easy-to-do for most mothers—simply place the unclothed baby against your bare skin.

C-Section

Even after a cesarean birth (c-section), the mom can usually hold the baby skin-to-skin soon after the surgery. If mom is not available or able to hold the baby right after birth, the other parent or another relative or friend can do skin-to-skin contact instead—or until the mother is ready. In fact, skin-to-skin contact is a great way for the other parent or caregiver to bond with the baby.

The benefits of skin-to-skin contact can be reaped whether it is the mother or another person who provides this physical comfort for the baby.

Preterm Birth

Skin-to-skin care for preterm babies is also often recommended. Many neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) will advise mothers to use skin-to-skin care to help stabilize their new baby. Be sure to let your practitioners know that you want to be skin-to-skin with the baby after birth. You can do this by having conversations with your practitioner, asking on your hospital tour, and including this in your birth plan.

Other Considerations

In the past, many hospitals have had policies that mandated babies have routine procedures done like bathing, weighing, measuring, and other treatments during the first hour after birth. Now, many of these procedures are done while the baby is with you, or they simply wait until this initial hour or so has passed.

You can always request that your baby's routine post-birth treatments be delayed to allow you and your baby more time for skin-to-skin contact.

If your baby is having trouble transitioning to life outside the womb, the nurses will be sure that your baby gets the support they need, which may include taking them to a warmer or for other care by the medical team. If this happens, someone from the baby's family can usually follow the baby. Normally, the goal is to get the baby back to you as soon as they are stable.

A Word From Verywell

After the whirlwind of the last few weeks of pregnancy and childbirth, make time for a healing, relaxing dose of skin-to-skin contact with your baby. Your baby has just been thrust from the security and comfort of the womb to the outside world, and you've been thrust into motherhood. Skin-to-skin time with your baby is the perfect way to process and honor these transitions before leaping into what comes next.

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Article Sources
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