Holding your newborn close to your body, having skin-to-skin contact is not only instinctual but also beneficial for both, babies and mothers.
Many years ago in Bogota, Colombia, a hospital ran out of incubators in the premature infant ward. As an alternative, the doctors allowed the tiny preemies to cuddle naked against their mother’s body. Both the mothers and their babies were then wrapped in a warm blanket, to maintain heat. To the doctors’ surprise, the babies thrived.
Unfortunately, you will probably have to request skin-to-skin contact in advance; while many hospitals allow skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth for newborns, others don’t. Be sure to ask about the procedures at the hospital where you plan to give birth.
Researchers Study Skin-to-Skin Contact
Skin-to-skin contact is simply Mother Nature’s way of nurturing both mother and child. However, science has now confirmed the wisdom of nature through several studies.
Researchers at Florida Atlantic University conducted a study with 33 mothers who were instructed by a certified trainer in kangaroo care while pregnant. Following giving birth, 16 of the mothers used skin-to-skin techniques for one hour a day for six weeks. The remaining 17 mothers were the control group; these mothers used infant feeding pillows. Both sets of mothers were also given journals to document their infant feedings over the course of the six-week study.
The researchers were interested in infant brain development as well as the levels of oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone.” To assess the baby’s brain development, particularly the left frontal lobe which is essential for both emotional regulation and cognitive skills, researchers used a stretch cap to measure the babies’ heads at three months old. They also used urine samples to measure the levels of oxytocin in both mothers and babies. Cortisol levels (the “stress” hormone) were also taken with saliva samples.
Results of the Study
Skin-to-skin contact was shown to lower the infants’ cortisol levels, resulting in a more relaxed and secure baby. Not only did the babies receiving kangaroo care fall asleep more easily, but they also remained asleep longer.
In addition, both babies and mothers in the kangaroo care group had increased levels of oxytocin; this could prove important in reducing the incidents of postpartum depression.
Furthermore, newborns given skin-to-skin contact immediately following birth were much more likely to breastfeed within an hour after being born. Likewise, the mother’s prolactin levels increased; prolactin is a hormone that triggers the production of milk. Other studies have shown that breastfed babies are healthier with improved cognitive abilities.
Benefits of Skin-to-Skin Contact
- Relaxes and calms both mother and baby
- Regulates the baby’s breathing and heart rate
- Stimulates both an interest in breastfeeding as well as good digestion
- Regulates baby’s body temperature
- Stimulates the release of prolactin to support breastfeeding and oxytocin to encourage healthy mothering
Responsible Kangaroo Care
While skin-to-skin contact has many benefits to both mother and child, it must be done mindfully and responsibly. Make sure your baby is secure, and never fall asleep with your baby; while this may seem natural, you don’t want to risk your baby falling onto the floor or suffocating under you or a blanket. Likewise, make sure your baby’s head is supported and that the baby’s airway is not obstructed.
Both skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding cost nothing, but can lay the groundwork for your child to grow up to be a happy, healthy adult.