How Skin-to-Skin Care Can Benefit Your Baby

Benefits can extend throughout your child's life

Mother and baby taking nap, skin to skin
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You may already be familiar with the term "kangaroo care" or "skin-to-skin" care for your baby. It's an important way to not only bond with your baby, but to help them thrive and grow also. A 2017 study revealed that skin-to-skin care provides long-lasting benefits that help your baby throughout their life.

How Skin-to-Skin Works

Skin-to-skin care is actually a very simple way to bond with your baby and provide them with health benefits. To perform skin-to-skin care, you simply place your baby on your chest, skin to skin.

Your little one may be in a diaper and placed on your bare skin, or you could simply open their shirt and your shirt to place them close to you.

Mom, dad, other partners, and caregivers can perform skin-to-skin, and it's especially beneficial to underweight and premature babies in the NICU. You can perform skin-to-skin with your baby at home, in the hospital, and anytime day or night, providing you never sleep with your baby on your chest.

Benefits Throughout Your Baby's Life

The immediate benefits of kangaroo care include:

  • Better bonding between caregiver and baby
  • Giving babies the best start with breastfeeding
  • Keeping newborns warm and calm
  • Regulating infants' blood sugar levels

For parents who have given birth, it can help boost milk supply and even decrease bleeding by promoting the production of the hormone oxytocin.

Although doctors have always known that skin-to-skin care has enormous benefits for both babies and caregivers, one study has revealed that the benefits are even more long-lasting than previously thought.

A 2016 review published in Pediatrics studied 3042 infants and discussed the benefits of kangaroo care for premature and low-weight infants. Some of the benefits included:

  • Decreased stress in the baby
  • Facilitation of bonding between caregiver and infant
  • Greater weight gain in low-birth weight infants
  • Higher rates of breastfeeding
  • Increased milk supply
  • Lower rates of infection
  • Lower death rates

One of the pioneers in kangaroo care, Dr. Nathalie Charpak, conducted a 20-year follow-up of babies in kangaroo care studies to see how they were doing as young adults. Comparing health differences in the babies to their status as adults would hopefully help them see if skin-to-skin had any benefits that started in infancy and continued into adulthood.

The results were not completely straightforward. The researchers explained that it's hard to separate kangaroo care from other things that the parents did—a mom performing skin-to-skin while breastfeeding, for example, or a father performing skin-to-skin while reading a book to his baby.

However, they did find some indications that skin-to-skin care has long-term benefits. The results showed that the children in the kangaroo care group had lower rates of school absences, a more optimal home environment, and significantly less hyperactivity, aggressiveness, and externalization.

What This Study Means

So what exactly does this study mean to you? Essentially it means that doctors aren't 100% sure how skin-to-skin care will benefit your baby throughout life, but the evidence suggests that skin-to-skin care as a baby will have a positive effect in the years to come.

Especially if your baby is born prematurely or has a low birth weight, skin-to-skin care is a simple way to help them. All babies can benefit from skin-to-skin care, and more research will be done to uncover exactly how this type of care will affect your little one all through their life.

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Article Sources
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  1. Furman L. Kangaroo mother care 20 years later: connecting infants and families. Pediatrics. 2017;139(1). doi:10.1542/peds.2016-3332

  2. Cleveland Clinic. Skin-to-skin contact for you and your baby. Updated January 1, 2018.

  3. Stanford Children's Health. Give 'em some skin.

  4. Conde-Agudelo A, Díaz-Rossello JL. Kangaroo mother care to reduce morbidity and mortality in low birthweight infants. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016;(8):CD002771. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD002771.pub4