What is Skin to Skin Contact?
Skin to skin contact is also known as “Kangaroo Care”, entails placing a newborn child on the bare chest of the mother or father. Whenever possible, mostly mothers and babies should be in direct contact at least for the first one to two hours after birth. When mother is not in a position to provide direct skin contact because of birth complications or direct labor, the father can do it on her behalf.
Skin to skin contact is recommended by many Health Organizations including, the World Health Organization, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Neonatal Resuscitation Program and the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine. This practice can be done anytime, although it is more highly recommended when the baby is uncomfortable and needs some calming. It is also very essential in neonatal units, where the babies are still developing. In these units, skin to skin contact helps parents to develop a bond with their newborn baby. It also helps to stabilize the baby’s heart rate, breathing, body temperature and their development.
With all the benefits that we will be discussing shortly, it is still common to meet parents that do not understand how to go about it. If you are one of them, this article is tailored for you. It contains tips on how to practice skin to skin contact with your newly born child and discusses the many benefits. But before we start, let us first discuss what happens during skin to skin contact.
What happens during skin to skin contact?
Skin to skin contact after birth initiates a strong connection between the mother and the baby. After the baby journey to this world, they will feel comforted by the smell and the heart beat of the mother, the touch and body temperature of the skin. The bond starts at that very moment. The instincts of the baby will make them follow a natural process that leads to the first breastfeed. The baby will familiarize themselves with the mother’s breast, which results in fewer breastfeeding problems. This familiarization process may take time and should not be rushed. After their first feed and comfort of their mother, most often both parties may feel sleepy.
How to Practice Skin to Skin Care Immediately After Birth
1. Place your baby bare chest on your bare chest such that you are nested chest to chest.
2. Turn your baby’s face on a side that leaves the baby’s breathing airway clear. This will ensure that the baby is not subjected to any airway restrictions.
3. Let your baby stay snuggled for an adequate period of time, probably one to two hours after birth. Different health organizations have different recommendations for this. The Water Birth International recommends the contact should be done for two hours. The World Health Organization recommends one hour after birth while the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that it should go on till the first breastfeed. Regardless of the period you choose, all routine checks and procedures by your doctor should not take place till you are through with this period.
4. It is recommended that you should practice the contact three months for a full-term baby and six months for preemies. At which point, the baby can be placed on the chest with clothes on.
Top Benefits of Skin to Skin Care
Helps with Bonding
After carrying your baby in the womb for nine months, the best part of your motherhood comes with meeting your baby face to face for the first time. It’s very touching, isn’t it? Bonding with your baby is not only exciting, but also a memorable experience. You begin looking at every part of their body, looking into his eyes, and even assuring them of a good life through words and passion. Funny enough, they also start to register that you are their mother or father the very first time your eyes meet. What is the meaning of all these actions?
The actions help in creating a bond between you and your baby. The main benefit of skin to skin contact immediately after birth is to become known by your newly born son or daughter and to give him or her chance to know you too. This is why it is advisable that both the mother and father practice skin to skin contact to their baby.
Newborns have a high sense of smell. Placing your baby in a skin to skin contact enables them to look for the nipple and start breastfeeding. According to a study published in Neonatal Network, a mother who practices skin to skin contact is likely to breastfeed exclusively and for a longer time than a non-practicing mother. The breastfeeding difference is often three months! UNICEF has proved that as long as your baby is in contact with you, their natural instincts will help them locate and latch on the breast.
Health studies by various health organizations have shown that a baby held under the skin to skin contact especially by their mother is less likely to cry than a similar baby separated from their mother. The bond created between the mother and the baby during the skin to skin contact makes them feel secured and comfortable. While on a direct contact with your newly born child, you are likely to attend to all their needs including the need to change diapers and breastfeeding. Chances are that your baby won’t cry because they feel comfortable. They feel comfortable amongst the touch, smell and noise of their environment from their last 9 months.
Easy Transition from the Womb
Physiologically, skin to skin held babies are more stable than those placed in nurseries and warmers after their birth. These babies have shown improved neurobehavioral characteristics through factors like less crying and better breastfeeding. They experience less stress after birth when they start navigating their new world. According to a physiology and neuroscience professor at a Tel Aviv University, skin to skin contact after birth is a basic need for a baby. Just like any mammal, a baby needs to be in close proximity with their mother during the first days of life. This helps them adopt to their external environment without stress.
Regulation of Blood sugar
A baby uses blood sugar as a source of energy. In the womb, the baby receives glucose via the placenta. When the baby is born, the glucose is received from the mother through breast milk or formula feeding. Research tells us that skin to skin contact care will help make your baby’s blood sugar stable. It will ensure that your baby’s glucose needs such as energy required to keep them warm is adequate and does not exceed what they can get from their liver. They will thus not experience a low level blood sugar. The risk of high blood sugar is common in babies who are separated from their parents since their lives cannot produce enough glucose to help generate adequate energy to keep them warm.
Stabilization of Body Temperature
A recent study comparing nursery warming to maternal and paternal skin to skin contact showed that the warmth of the baby’s parents is better than that of a nursery warmer. When pregnant, a mother controls the baby’s temperature through behaviors such as shivering when cold and sweating when hot. Soon after birth, the baby has to maintain the temperature control. With no self means, they have to rely on their parents for warmth. Paternal skin to skin care is particular essential for temperature stabilization and baby cardio therapy. Both the maternal and paternal kangaroo care helps to maintain the internal temperatures of the baby’s body especially when it is cold. When it is hot, the cooling characteristic of the parent’s skin will also cool down the temperatures of the baby.
Prevention of Postpartum Depression
There are various studies proving that skin to skin contact care prevents and reduces postpartum depression. According to the American Journal of Maternal Nursing, the mother’s adrenal axis activity is affected negatively by child birth. Kangaroo care is likely to reactivate the pathways to reduce the risk of being depressed. Furthermore, the oxytocin from skin to skin contact care reduces mother’s anxiety and enhances attachment. This further reduces the risk of depression.
Research has shown that babies undergoing clinical operations and procedures experience less pain when under skin to skin care during such procedures or immediately after. The pain duration is also shortened especially if the baby is under maternal or paternal kangaroo care. The contact is more efficient in relieving pain example during blood sampling than artificial glucose.
Kangaroo care gives better relief from pain systems if it lasts long enough to counter the symptoms. For example, if the pain duration is 20 minutes, you can hold your baby skin to skin for 40 minutes to counter the effects of the pain. This will also ensure that your baby does not cry for long.
Compared to incubator care, skin to skin baby care remains the greater source of pain relief. For example, 20 minutes of skin to skin care will relieve more pain than the same duration of incubator care. This has left health researches with unanswered questions as to whether skin to skin care benefits should continue over routine painful procedures necessary in the NICU.
Communication Between the Baby And Parents
Skin to skin contact after baby’s birth helps the parents to understand their baby’s behaviors such as discomfort, signs of hunger or happiness. Holding your baby skin to skin will help you learn your baby’s communication signals very fast. This will enhance your response to his/her needs. It will increase your maternal or paternal confidence and help your baby achieve a feeling of security and trust in you. Your ability to respond to your baby’s signals of discomfort and hunger will help you make him/her comfortable and feed him/her at appropriate times.
Transfer of Good Bacteria
A newborn baby gets exposed to their mother’s bacteria through skin to skin contact. Bacteria found on the skin are very different from those found in the normal hospital rooms. Early exposure to the skin helps your baby develop a wide range of healthy bacteria. Health experts say that these good bacteria protect your baby from allergic diseases. They also help to decolonize your child if they have Staphylococcus aureus in their nostrils.
Promotes Better Sleep
When a baby feels secure and comfortable, it is easier for them to drift away in Dreamland. With the warmth of your skin and hands, your baby will surely drift into a sound and comfortable sleep. You might join them as well in a nice quiet nap.
Is the skin to skin contact recommendable for caesarean mothers?
Research shows that the practice of skin to skin contact after a caesarian delivery is the utmost safe and beneficial to your baby. You only need the help and cooperation of your doctor.
Can it have the same benefits if practiced by fathers?
Most certainly. As much as anyone might believe that the mother bond is stronger because she has 9 months of connection prior to birth, Health research has found that any paternal skin to skin care is beneficial. The father might consider introducing voice or humming to the experience to make it more beneficial.
What about adoptive parents, doctors, siblings and grandparents?
If maternal and paternal skin to skin contact is not possible or available, any of the above can do it. It will not be necessarily to create a bond, but for the sake of the health benefits that the baby gets through this process.
What to Do if Skin to Skin Contact is Not Working for You
There are many reasons why skin to skin care may not be successful. First, your baby may not be in the mood while you are trying to do it. Observe him. If he or she squirms, looks away or cries, this may be a signal that they are tired and needs some space. Give them the space they require and try later.
If possible, avoid smelly jellies and perfumes. Your baby might have mastered your natural smell so he might resist you if you smell differently.
Maybe you are not in the mood especially if the skin to skin practice is new to you or you are not used to it. Just give yourself some time to adjust to new life with your new baby.
If your baby makes skin to skin resistance a habit, contact your midwife or clinical doctor. Due to their working experience, they will surely give you ideas, advice or even follow up in case of any cause of concern.
Skin to skin contact care is very vital to the life of your new born child. Make sure you practice it for a better growth of your child. In case you feel too weak to lay the baby on your chest soon after delivery, request for help from your midwife or a loved one. In fact, all medical practitioners know the importance of skin to skin contact. You will be surprised to see your doctor lay your new baby on your chest immediately after birth even without your request.