In the first few moments after birth, a gentle practice has been scientifically proven to have profound short and long-term benefits for both the newborn and the parent - this is the practice of Skin-to-Skin contact. Also known as Kangaroo Care, this simple yet powerful method involves laying the newborn baby directly on the mother's chest or father’s chest, bare skin against bare skin. While it may seem like a small gesture, the benefits of this initial bonding time are truly extraordinary. So, without further ado, here is "The Power of Skin-to-Skin Contact: Benefits During and Beyond the Golden Hour."
The Magical First Hour: The Golden Hour
The first hour after a child's birth is often referred to as the 'Golden Hour.' This period is considered critical for initiating skin-to-skin, as it sets the stage for a variety of physiological and emotional benefits. Here are a few of the most important ones:
1. Temperature Regulation:
Newborns have a limited ability to regulate their own body temperature. The warmth of a parent's body acts as a natural incubator, helping the baby maintain a normal body temperature. When a baby is skin-to-skin with their parent immediately after birth, hats are NOT required (Use this time to smell your baby's glorious newborn smell and admire that head of hair).
2. Heart and Lung Function:
Skin-to-skin contact helps stabilize the baby's heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure. It can also improve oxygen saturation levels and lead to earlier initiation of breastfeeding. This is why babies in NICUs can thrive during skin to skin contact aka kangaroo care.
3. Breastfeeding Success:
Skin-to-skin contact promotes early initiation of breastfeeding and longer breastfeeding duration. The close contact encourages the baby to find the breast and instinctively start suckling, which in turn helps stimulate milk production.
4. Decreased Crying:
The comforting sound of a parent's heartbeat and the soothing touch significantly reduce crying and distress in the newborn. Side note: A baby does NOT need to cry in order to breathe directly after birth. They usually know how to clear out the fluid from their lungs and will do so without assistance. If they are transitioning well, ask the nurses to let you rub your baby by yourself. There's no need to rub the feet and back of babies to make them cry, especially by a stranger. Being on your chest is all they need (if all is normal and well).
5. Immune System Boost:
Babies born via vaginal delivery receive a dose of beneficial bacteria while passing through the birth canal. Skin-to-Skin contact further exposes the baby to the mother's skin flora, which can help build their immune system. To read more about this, look up "Vaginal Seeding" and "Infant microbiome" It's truly fascinating!
6. Parent-Child Bonding:
Skin-to-skin contact stimulates the release of hormones like oxytocin, also known as the "love hormone," which facilitates bonding between parent and baby. This bonding promotes a sense of security in the baby and boosts maternal confidence and responsiveness to the baby's cues.
The Benefits of Skin to Skin Extend Beyond the Golden Hour
While the first hour after birth is a critical period for skin to skin, continuing this practice in the weeks and months that follow can deliver additional benefits:
1. Improved Infant Sleep:
Research has shown that skin to skin can positively influence the baby's sleep patterns, leading to more extended periods of restful sleep for both parents and baby.
2. Enhanced Brain Development:
Regular skin-to-skin contact can stimulate the baby's brain development, leading to improved cognitive and motor skills in the long run. This is a fascinating topic to research. Babies needs tend to be met faster when parents do skin to skin which in turns help the developing brains of infants.
3. Reduced Postpartum Depression:
Skin-to-skin contact can lower the incidence of postpartum depression in mothers by boosting oxytocin levels, which have positive effects on mood.
4. Better Pain Management:
Skin-to-skin contact has been shown to reduce the perceived pain level in preterm infants undergoing minor painful procedures in the neonatal intensive care unit. Same with childhood vaccines. Most pediatricians will allow the parent to hold their baby during immunizations to help with perceived pain.
5. Regulated Blood Sugar Levels:
Skin-to-skin contact has been found to help stabilize a newborn's blood sugar levels, particularly in babies born to mothers with gestational diabetes. The close contact and warmth of the parent's body can help regulate the baby's glucose levels and prevent hypoglycemia.
6. Improved Weight Gain:
Babies who engage in skin-to-skin contact have been shown to have better weight gain in the early weeks of life. The physical closeness and breastfeeding stimulation provided during skin-to-skin time can enhance the baby's feeding cues, leading to more effective feeding and increased milk intake.
7. Stress Reduction:
Skin-to-skin contact has a calming effect on both the baby and the parent. It helps reduce stress hormones such as cortisol and promotes the release of endorphins, which are natural pain relievers and mood enhancers.
8. Regulated Breathing Patterns:
The close proximity of the baby to the parent's chest during skin-to-skin contact has been observed to improve respiratory stability. It can help regulate the baby's breathing patterns, particularly in premature infants who may be at a higher risk of respiratory complications.
9. Enhanced Digestive Function:
The physical contact and relaxation associated with skin-to-skin time can have a positive impact on the baby's digestive system. It can help stimulate peristalsis (the wave-like muscle contractions that move food through the digestive system) and reduce the risk of conditions like colic and constipation.
10. Positive Impact on Parental Well-being:
Skin-to-skin contact is not only beneficial for the baby but also for the parent. It promotes feelings of joy, confidence, and a sense of accomplishment in caring for the newborn. It can also help reduce parental anxiety and improve the overall well-being of the parent.
It's important to note that skin-to-skin contact is beneficial for all parents, regardless of gender. Both mothers and fathers can engage in this practice and experience the numerous advantages it offers.
Skin-to-skin contact after birth provides a multitude of benefits that extend well beyond the first hour of life. From physiological regulation to emotional bonding and long-term developmental advantages, skin-to-skin is a powerful tool. Embracing and prioritizing skin-to-skin contact can create a nurturing environment that sets the stage for a strong and loving parent-child relationship from the very beginning.
Skin-to-Skin contact after birth is a simple, cost-free, and profoundly beneficial way to welcome a newborn into the world. As with any birthing and postnatal practices, it's always important to consult with healthcare professionals to ensure the safety and health of both the mother and baby.
Here are just some of many research articles discussing the evidence on SSC and the numerous benefits it brings to parent and baby. I urge you to research this and advocate for it in your birth: