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 because it's actually an important way to not only bond with your baby, but to help him or her thrive and grow too. And now, a 2016 study revealed that there are more important benefits to skin-to-skin care that can help your baby, even much later in life.

How Skin-to-Skin Works

Skin-to-skin care is actually a very simple way to bond with your baby and provide him or her 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.

Both mom or dad or other partners and caregivers can perform skin-to-skin and it's especially beneficial to underweight and premature babies in the NICU. Kangaroo care helps stabilize a newborn's temperature, breathing, and heart rate, and it calms newborns and facilities bonding between caregiver and baby too. For moms who have given birth, it can help boost milk supply and even decrease bleeding by promoting the production of the hormone oxytocin.

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

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 review published in Pediatrics looked at all of the available research on kangaroo care and discussed some of the ways that kangaroo care has long-lasting benefits, especially for premature and low-weight infants. Some of the benefits included:

  • Stabilizing weights in infants who had low birth weights
  • Lower rates of infection
  • Lower death rates
  • Higher mother breastfeeding rates
  • Facilities bonding
  • Increases milk supply
  • Decreased stress in the baby

After finding all those initial benefits of skin-to-skin care, the researchers then examined all of the babies in the initial kangaroo care studies to see how they were doing now. Looking at the health differences in the babies, they hoped, would help them see if skin-to-skin had any benefits that started as babies that went on to help them as adults.

Although the results were not completely straightforward, because the researchers explained that it's hard to separate kangaroo care from other things that the parents did—a mom may perform skin-to-skin while she's breastfeeding, for example, or a father could perform skin-to-skin while reading a book to his baby—they did find some suggestions that skin-to-skin care had some benefits to the families.

For example, one study found that the children in the kangaroo care group had lower rates of school absences, a more optimal home environment, and significantly less reduced 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 percent sure exactly how skin-to-skin care will benefit your baby all throughout life, but the evidence is suggesting that skin-to-skin care as a baby will have a positive effect on your baby, even later in life. 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 skin-to-skin care will affect your little one all through his or her life.

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Article Sources
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  • Furman, L. Kangaroo Mother Care 20 Years Later: Connecting Infants and Families. Pediatrics. 2016-3332