Seemingly everyone knows that skin-to-skin contact promotes bonding within a family unit. Some people know it’s a major factor in newborn adaptation to extrauterine life. But here are some lesser-known facts you need to know about skin-to-skin newborn contact.
Definitely, it’s a sweet and lovely way to bond with your baby. But it’s more than that.
Newborns are designed to go through other phases before suckling. Nuzzling, hand-to-mouth movements, licking and tasting, and other behaviors are part of the learning experience.
Holding your baby skin-to-skin contact facilitates those phases and behaviors. That results in better breastfeeding:
- improved latch; holding a baby skin-to-skin in the first hour increases the likelihood of correct and vigorous sucking in the first feeding ‒ and during later feedings, too. This is because the baby experiences an initial reward for his efforts; the brain “imprints” the new skill which the baby will henceforth apply.
- better milk supply; greater volume of milk to help satisfy your baby.
- oxytocin release; reduces pain perception (you’ll notice this if the baby gets a shot of Vitamin K while still attached to your breast).
- exclusive breastfeeding for longer – If you have a goal of breastfeeding for 6 months, this is a key factor (while not the only factor) in helping you to achieve that goal.
More than just about breastfeeding
Whether the mother is breastfeeding or formula-feeding, skin-to-skin contact should be initiated because of its importance in a newborn’s physiologic regulation.
Skin-to-skin newborn contact has a major impact on physiological functioning.
Over 1,000 studies have documented the physiologic benefits that are linked to skin-to-skin contact, including:
- better temperature and glucose regulation
- better heart rate and respiratory function
- better able to fight off infection due to the high concentration of immunoglobulins in the colostrum, right from the start
- lower risk of infant sleep apnea (cessation of breathing for 20 seconds)
- better quality of infant sleep, and more robust feedings due to being well-rested
Supports all mammalian growth and development
Skin-to-skin care after birth is the physiologic norm in the mammalian world ‒ and in the human world. (Yes, humans are mammals!)
This experience supports the newborn in going through the 9 behavioral stages of mammals, identified in a fascinating study by Widstrom and colleagues
- birth cry
It’s not just for the first few hours
Even though the first hour is important, skin-to-skin contact should continue for many days or weeks for you and your baby to gain all of the benefits.
Delays are unfortunate, but not catastrophic
If skin-to-skin newborn contact can’t occur right away due to a medical situation, do not despair. You can still offer your baby the benefits of skin-to-skin care ‒ hopefully many times. The resulting benefits are not likely to be as swift, or as intense but they will be present!
It’s never too late to be skin-to-skin with your baby.
Skin-to-skin contact is normal
Mammals, including humans, need contact with each other.
Shaking hands with a business associate is one way we have skin-to-skin contact. Intimate contact with our partners is one way. Skin-to-skin newborn contact is another way.
Or said differently, why wouldn’t we have skin-to-skin contact with the baby we’ve been carrying for 9 months?
What was your experience of skin-to-skin contact with your baby?