The Benefits of Skin-to-Skin Contact With Your Newborn Baby
March 13, 2019
Before birth, babies are as close to their moms as they can possibly be. From mom they get warmth, food, protection and oxygen. When labor occurs, babies suddenly find themselves separated from those essentials of life. Study after study has shown there are great benefits for babies who are held naked against their mother’s skin immediately after birth.
Think about the dramatic transition babies go through as they prepare to take their first breaths of air. Babies held skin-to-skin by their mothers tend to have heart and breathing rates that are stable sooner than babies who are not. This holds true with premature babies as well as those born full-term. Perhaps the mother’s heart sounds and breathing patterns, so familiar to the baby before birth, are a comfort immediately after birth.
During pregnancy, mother’s body maintains her baby’s temperature. Mother sweats when hot and shivers when cold, and baby just enjoys the comfort. After birth, babies do not yet have that same temperature-controlling ability. In fact, for newborns, a mother’s body is better than an artificial warmer. One study found that skin-to-skin contact with mom’s or dad’s bodies were better at keeping the baby warm than an electric warmer, with mom’s body having a slight edge over dad’s body.
Protecting Baby's Health
The role of the birth process in transferring good bacteria from a mother to her newborn cannot be overstated. Passage through the birth canal allows the baby’s gut to be colonized with the mother’s good bacteria. Another way babies get exposed to their mother’s good bacteria is through skin-to-skin contact. Bacteria on the skin are different from bacteria found in a hospital isolette, so early exposure helps babies develop a range of healthy bacteria.
Skin-to-skin contact also supports early breastfeeding. Some of the nutrients in human milk are the perfect food for the good bacteria that coat the intestinal wall and provide protection from harmful bacteria. Experts believe these good bacteria may also protect against allergic diseases later in life.
It takes time for parents to learn to understand their baby’s behavior. Having the baby in close skin-to-skin contact helps to ensure that the mother will learn her baby’s signals. Signs of hunger, signs of fullness, signs of alarm, signs of discomfort and so on are recognized sooner. Mother will gain confidence in her ability as a mother sooner. Baby will develop a sense of trust and security sooner. Therefore, everybody has a better chance of getting some sleep.
Babies who are held in skin-to-skin contact by their mother tend to cry less than babies separated from their mothers. Most babies cease crying once reunited with their mothers because a baby is less likely to cry when he feels the protection and security provided by his mother. Having the baby “room in” with the mother at the hospital can help ensure that she is able to respond to her baby’s needs and provide frequent skin-to-skin contact.
Mom and Baby Need to Stay Together
For decades mothers were encouraged to put their newborn babies in warmers and send them to the nursery for monitoring by nursing staff while the mother rested in her room. We are now realizing that when mothers and babies are separated after birth, opportunities are limited to get to know each other. Skin-to-skin contact allows mothers and babies to use all of their senses in building this new relationship.
One long-term study found the benefits of skin-to-skin contact during infancy can be seen for years. After following up on one group of children at age 10, researchers found benefits for those who had skin-to-skin care, including better mother/child attachment behavior, reduced anxiety in the mother and better child thinking and reasoning development.
So hold your baby close from the start and continue to keep baby close throughout infancy.
Steven Baldridge, RN, is a staff educator at University Hospitals Samaritan Medical Center.
UH Samaritan Medical Center’s Birthing and Women’s Unit will host a presentation, Getting Your Baby Off to the Best Start by UH Samaritan Women’s Care physicians at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 4. Following this presentation will be a tour of our facility and a chance to speak with staff on the topics of rooming in, skin-to-skin, breastfeeding and childbirth education classes. If you plan to attend, please call 419-207-2563.