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Surprising Facts You Might Not Know about Newborn Skin-to-Skin Contact

Mom with baby practicing skin-to-skin newborn contact.

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.

Better breastfeeding

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
  • relaxation
  • awakening
  • activity
  • resting
  • crawling
  • familiarization
  • suckling
  • sleep

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?

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