Skin-to-skin contact is one of the simplest and most effective ways to support your baby’s physical and developmental needs.
Newborn babies used to be swept away right after delivery to be cleaned, examined, and swaddled. Nurseries were full of pink and blue bundles so that mothers could get some much-needed rest. While mothers still need the rest, research shows that what babies need most after birth is physical contact with their mom or primary caregiver—and lots of it.
Today, newborns are often placed directly on moms’ bare chests after delivery. Babies spend months tucked inside their mothers’ wombs; it makes perfect sense that snuggling up against her bare skin is the best place for them while they adjust to their new surroundings.
Skin-to-skin contact is also beneficial for moms because it slows bleeding, helps the uterus to contract and shrink, boosts the release of oxytocin, and leads to greater breastfeeding success. It also reduces the chances of postpartum depression and decreases stress levels, all while making moms feel more attached to their babies and attuned to their needs.
Practicing skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth is standard procedure in most hospitals to support the best possible health outcomes for the mom and her baby. However, many parents don’t know that it should be a continued practice once they leave the hospital.
To practice skin-to-skin contact, all you need to do is lay your baby against your chest so that their bare skin is against your bare skin. Then you can wrap a blanket across their back so that you are in a cozy little cocoon of love.
Here are nine reasons to practice skin-to-skin contact with your baby when you get home.
1. Regulates Your Baby’s Temperature, Heart Rate, Oxygen, and Breathing Patterns
When babies get too cold, their body is depleted of essential energy. According to an article by JoLyn Seitz, M.D. at Sanford Health, “through skin-to-skin contact, the mother’s breasts automatically adjust to cool down or warm baby up, similar to when baby was in the womb”. In addition, skin-to-skin contact stabilizes babies’ heartbeat and breathing patterns, which reduces heart and breathing episodes by seventy-five percent. The closeness that skin-to-skin contact provides acts as a safe haven for babies as they learn to function in their new world. As if we need more reasons to snuggle!
2. Improves Breastfeeding Success
Moms who practice skin-to-skin tend to have greater and longer breastfeeding success. This is because skin-to-skin contact encourages babies to nurse, which also boosts moms’ milk supply. “When mom and baby are together, hormones that regulate lactation balance out, helping mom to produce more milk and breastfeed more successfully,” said Dr. Seitz on Sanford Health.
3. Reduces Stress for Mom and Baby
The stress hormone called cortisol is significantly lower in both mom and baby after just 20 minutes of skin-to-skin contact. Isn’t that incredible? Skin-to-skin contact also releases oxytocin, the feel-good hormone, in both mom and baby. This supports the bonding experience and makes you both feel happier, calmer, and more relaxed. Can we bottle this feeling, please?
4. Strengthens Baby’s Immune System
When you practice skin-to-skin contact with your baby, you’re transferring your antibodies directly from your skin to theirs. Antibodies are proteins made by your immune system that help fight infections. Your developed immune system strengthens your baby’s developing immune system.
This important practice also helps to hydrate baby’s skin, which creates a protective barrier against bacteria. The same thing happens when dad, a grandparent, or any caregiver practices skin-to-skin contact.
5. Leads to Quality Sleep for Baby
Have you noticed how calm your baby is in your arms? Skin-to-skin contact eases pain or discomfort, which reduces crying and improves sleep. When babies spend more time nestled close in their caregiver’s arms, they are able to achieve deeper and more restful sleep. Quality sleep leads to better growth, brain function, and overall health. However, it’s important to follow the American Academy of Pediatrics’ safe sleep guidelines for naps and nighttime sleep, including placing babies on their back on a firm, flat surface.
6. Establishes an Environment for Growth
When babies have all their needs met, they can focus their energy on growing, learning, and thriving. This makes perfect sense; consider times in your life when you have felt in danger or extremely stressed. How easy is it to learn and thrive in these moments? When babies are stressed or their needs are not met, they feel that they are in danger and all their energy goes to survival. Babies feel safest when they are close to their mom or primary caregiver. Mom’s scent, warmth, and the sound of her heartbeat and voice soothe her baby and establish an environment of comfort. By regularly practicing skin-to-skin contact with your baby, you are reminding them that they are safe, loved, and free to learn.
7. Promotes Healthy Weight Gain
Because skin-to-skin contact helps babies to regulate their temperature, heart rate, and breathing patterns and increases their oxygen levels, they can focus their energy on growth. As stated above, skin-to-skin initiates more responsive breastfeeding, which also leads to greater weight gain. Likewise, weight gain is improved because skin-to-skin contact helps babies to absorb and digest nutrients. All of these wonderful benefits work together for optimal health and happiness.
8. Fosters Empathy and Positive Relationships
A study that took place over a 20-year span followed a group of babies into adulthood. Some of these babies practiced skin-to-skin contact regularly with their moms and some spent the beginning of their life in incubation care. The study concluded that the babies who spent the beginning of their life close to their moms became more empathetic adults with more positive relationships.
9. Encourages a Strong and Loving Bond
Your baby’s very first relationship is with you, their mom, dad, or primary caregiver. Your relationship with your baby sets the stage for all their future relationships. Physical touch is your baby’s love language. Skin-to-skin contact is the best way to form a strong attachment with your baby, which is essential for their development and their future.