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Skin-to-Skin Contact with Other Parent May Help Infants After C-Section Delivery

man doing skin-to-skin contact with infant

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Key Takeaways

  • Skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth has many benefits for a parent and a newborn baby.
  • A recent study finds that skin-to-skin contact with dad or other parent should be initiated if mom is unable because of a C-section birth.
  • These findings can be used to initiate a deeper bond with the non-birthing parent right from birth.

The known benefits of immediate skin-to-skin contact between a baby and its mother after birth are many. But when a baby is born via C-section, many times the mom is unable to hold the baby close right away as a result of her own post-surgical care. A new study published in the journal Acta Paediatrica finds that in these cases, the baby’s non birth-giving parent can and should initiate skin-to-skin contact with the baby.

After an uncomplicated vaginal birth, most hospital protocols indicate the newborn baby should be placed on the mother’s chest right away in order to initiate skin-to-skin contact. That’s because this type of touch, also referred to as kangaroo care, has been found to be incredibly beneficial to both babies and mothers.

Investigating Kangaroo Care

For this study, 95 full-term infants were separated into three groups: one was placed in an infant cot immediately following birth, another group was bundled and placed in their father's arms, and still another was placed, naked except for a diaper, onto their fathers' bare chests for skin-to-skin contact. Study findings indicated that, in addition to the benefits listed below, "skin‐to‐skin contact had no negative impact on the infants."

"Kangaroo care was first introduced in the 1970s in Colombia when staff and equipment shortages led pediatricians to shift the place of care for sick infants onto their mothers' chests," says Sarah Rahal, MD, a double board-certified adult and pediatric neurologist.

"Now, science has caught up and we've started studying and noting the positive impact it has on the [parent-child] dynamic—emotionally as well as physiologically," says Kecia Gaither, MD, MPH, FACOG, double board-certified physician in OB/GYN and maternal fetal medicine, and director of perinatal services at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln.

Study author Ana Ayala says, “A father providing skin-to-skin contact with his newborn immediately after a cesarean birth offers the same calming and comforting benefits as a mother. It also allows the mother to feel more relaxed knowing that her child is with the father.

Benefits of Skin-to-Skin Contact

The benefits of skin-to-skin contact during the first hour of life are well documented. A 2013 article entitled, The Sacred Hour: Uninterrupted Skin-to-Skin Contact Immediately After Birth, stated, “There is good evidence that normal, term newborns who are placed skin to skin with their mothers immediately after birth make the transition from fetal to newborn life with greater respiratory, temperature, and glucose stability and significantly less crying, indicating decreased stress.”

Ana Ayala, Study Author

A father providing skin-to-skin contact with his newborn immediately after a cesarean birth offers the same calming and comforting benefits as a mother.

— Ana Ayala, Study Author

Now, it seems the emphasis on kangaroo care can be transferred from solely the mother to the baby’s other parent, as well. “This allows both parents to be involved in getting to know the child right from the start and in raising their children,” Ayala says.

This is increasingly crucial in today’s society, where traditional mother-father family structures are sometimes replaced with same-sex partnerships, queer partnerships, and transexual partnerships where there may not be a clear “mother figure” in the traditional sense. 

Bringing the non-birthing partner into the fold right away can help facilitate a deeper bond between that parent and the baby, especially if that parent won’t be the one responsible for feedings. “This will increase the [other partner’s] confidence as a parent and strengthen the family ties,” says Ayala. 

And there’s no reason to be concerned about breastfeeding, according to the study’s findings. “The skin-to-skin contact [even with the other parent] facilitated the newborn’s ‘pre-feeding behavior’ of seeking the breast,” says Ayala. “This made the child fully prepared for the first breastfeeding session when being reunited with the mother after the separation due to a caesarean section.”

What This Means for You

If you’re due to give birth via C-section soon, it’s a great idea to arrange for your partner to have skin-to-skin contact with the baby immediately following the birth.

If you know you’ll be unable to hold your infant on your bare chest right after birth and you’d like for your partner to have this experience, talk to your doctor ahead of time and have him or her advocate for you and your partner. And as soon as you’re stitched up and ready, you’ll get to have your skin-on-skin contact as well. 

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  1. Phillips R. The sacred hour: uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact immediately after birthNewborn and Infant Nursing Reviews. 2013;13(2):67-72. doi:10.1053/j.nainr.2013.04.001