The health benefits of skin-to-skin contact directly after birth, and beyond.
With huge benefits for both mothers and newborns, skin-to-skin contact directly after birth, and beyond, is a time that should be cherished and protected. But how long should you cuddle your newborn baby for and when should you start?
We speak to Liz Halliday, deputy head of midwifery at Private Midwives for her expert advice on why skin-to-skin time is so important:
What exactly is skin-to-skin contact?
Skin-to-skin contact with your baby right after birth is a wonderful, natural and intuitive practice, which can help to initiate a close and loving bond. Also known as kangaroo mother care (KMC), the term usually refers to the time when your unclothed baby is placed directly onto your bare chest after they are born. A birth partner or midwife will cover you both in a warm blanket, and you will be left quietly together.
As well as helping to form a strong and deep connection to one another, skin-to-skin contact offers numerous other benefits for both mother and baby – and your partner, too.
‘Skin-to-skin means a time that your baby spends with their skin next to yours,’ explains Halliday. ‘They will be unclothed (bar a nappy sometimes) and you will be unclothed from the waist up. The practice of skin-to-skin is the biological norm and should be protected time, as we know it has an influence on children’s social and emotional health in life.’
Why is skin-to-skin important for baby?
There is a growing body of evidence which supports the health benefits of kangaroo mother care. ‘When a baby is skin-to-skin with you, their temperature, heart rate and breathing regulates,’ says Halliday.
‘It’s also a great way to warm them up or cool them down, which helps to calm them.’
As well as temperature, heart rate and breathing regulation, skin-to-skin contact also helps baby with the following:
✔️ Exposes baby to the good bacteria on the mother’s skin, thereby boosting their immune system.
✔️ Generates an interest in feeding.
✔️ Promotes bonding.
How does skin-to-skin initiate feeding?
By cuddling your baby against your skin, you will help to kickstart some highly instinctive behaviours, in both you and your baby.
‘Skin-to-skin gives your baby free access to the breast,’ says Halliday. ‘Mothers also tend to do things like snuggling them close and stroking them, which encourages breastfeedingif that is their chosen method of feeding baby.’
In fact, if left to their own devices and given time, without intervention or help, a newborn baby will actually move towards their mother’s breast, nuzzle and familiarise themselves with the area, and latch on for their first feed. Although at this point they may need a little repositioning to help them suck effectively.
Why is skin-to-skin important for mum?
Skin-to-skin contact isn’t just important for baby, it benefits the mother too.
‘Being skin-to-skin with another person creates a strong level of intimacy,’ explains Halliday. ‘After birth, it helps to regulate hormones, increasing oxytocin [the ‘love’ hormone] and prolactin [for milk production] levels, which creates a wonderful bond and helps the mothering instinct to kick in. We also know that skin-to-skin time reduces the incidence of postpartum haemorrhage significantly.’
Skin-to-skin for fathers and partners
While skin-to-skin contact is important for mother, there are huge benefits for other caregivers too.
‘Skin-to-skin creates a bond between any caregiver and baby, so it’s very important that Dad gets a snuggle too,’ reveals Halliday. ‘There’s evidence to show that it has an effect on his hormones too, raising dopamine and increasing oxytocin. This rewires his brain and helps him to feel more confident and protective, encouraging his fatherly instinct to bloom.’
How often should you do skin-to-skin?
While skin-to-skin contact is often associated with the time immediately after birth, it is also valuable during the first weeks of your baby’s life, as you start to get to know one another, so you can continue to perform skin-to-skin with your baby for as long as you wish.
‘Skin-to-skin helps in the weeks after birth to calm baby if they are distressed, and it can be used very effectively to warm them up or cool them down if needed,’ adds Halliday.