Skin To Skin Contact
We’ve probably all heard of skin to skin and that it is important after birth. However we might not all understand exactly why we are encouraged to do it and also how it can actually continue to be beneficial for the first few months after birth.
Skin to skin is as simple as it sounds. Putting your bare skin to your baby’s bare skin. After birth your baby will be dried and then placed on your chest, your midwife will then place a blanket or towel over your baby to keep them warm whilst they are laying on you. It is recommended that skin to skin contact takes place for at least an hour after birth. It is also beneficial for newborns to receive skin to skin with dad if not possible with mum straight after birth.
The only things you need for skin to skin
- your baby
- blanket or skin to skin top
When a baby is placed skin to skin on their mothers chest after birth Unicef state that most healthy full term babies will follow a similar process. The baby will initially cry briefly and then enter a stage of relaxation to recover from brith. They will then start to wake up and open their eyes and may even show some response to their mothers voice. They may then begin to move, as these movements increase thy will appear to move towards the breast. When they have found the breast they will rest again, once rested they will then explore the breast by smelling, nuzzling and licking. If left to it a baby will then self-attach and begin to feed. Mother and baby may need some support with positioning at this point. The baby will then come off the breast and probably fall asleep.
Skin to skin helps stabilise baby’s breathing, temperature, blood sugars and heart rate.
When babies are born they don’t yet have the ability to maintain their own body temperature. A study by Wunderlich & Elwell, 2012 found that skin to skin contact was better than an electric warmer at keeping newborns warm.
Babies take their first breaths straight after birth and this is a huge transition for them. Babies are used to hearing their mothers heart beat and breathing patterns in utero so perhaps by placing them on the mothers chest they can still feel these and they may help keep the baby calm and help them adapt to the outside world quicker.
Our skin is covered in our own good bacteria, which can be transferred to baby by touch. This bacteria can help provide protection against infection. Skin to skin contact has also been shown in many studies to support early breastfeeding by stimulating the release of hormones that help in milk production. It also stimulates the babies digestion and interest in feeding. Breastmilk contains indigestible sugars that help feed the bacteria that coat the intestinal wall which helps build the babies immune system.
Skin to skin contact enables both mothers and babies to use all their senses. Having the baby so close can help mothers learn their baby’s signs for hunger and tiredness quicker, which in turn may help increase maternal confidence.
Newborn babies who are held skin to skin have been found to cry less. This could be because their mother/ care giver is right there and can respond to their cues and signs quicker. It could also be due to the fact that they feel safer, less stressed and more secure during skin to skin which is more familiar rather than being placed in a cot next to the mothers bed or in a nursery.
A study by Vittner D, et al 2018, found that oxytocin levels increased significantly during skin to skin contact for mothers, fathers and infants. It also found that cortisol (the stress hormone) levels decreased significantly in infants during skin to skin contact.
As well as promoting bonding between baby and dad, skin to skin with dads can also help paternal instincts kick in. Alongside oxytocin, dopamine is also produced in the fathers body which causes the brain to create a positive association with close interaction with their baby. Fathers can often feel frustrated that they can’t do more, especially if their partner is exclusively breastfeeding, so skin to skin contact can give dads purpose as it is an important activity babies and dads can do together.
Babies love your natural smell so remember not to wear strong perfume, aftershave or wash with strong smelling body wash.
Skin to skin doesn’t need to always be on your chest. Stroking your child’s face, arms, legs and feet can also be beneficial. It maybe that skin to skin is a new concept for you and you may need to work up to full skin to skin contact. That is ok. Baby massage is also a lovely way to be close to your baby, have bonding time and feeling your skin on each other. Your baby may also just not be in the mood for skin to skin, if your baby is unsettled during skin to skin try again later after they have slept or fed.
A quick overview on skin to skin contact
- Helps stabilise baby’s breathing
- Helps stabilise baby’s temperature
- Helps stabilise baby’s blood sugars
- Helps stabilise baby’s heart rate
- Dads and partners/care givers can also do skin to skin
- produces oxytocin in mum, dad and baby
- reduces levels of cortisol (stress hormone) in baby
- can be chest to chest, stroking face, arms, legs or feet or baby massage
- Supports early breastfeeding
- Promotes bonding
Sometimes feeling low and not wanting to be close to your baby could be a sign of postnatal depression (PND). PND can affect either parent and is more common than we think. If you are finding it hard to connect with your baby and you are feeling sad or low please speak to your health visitor or GP. Talking to your partner, friends and family can also help. There are also some great charities out there with free helplines. Pandas is a UK national charity supporting families coping with pre and postnatal mental illnesses. Their free helpline number is 08081 961 776.