In the birth world we talk a lot with expectant and new parents about the benefits of holding babies skin-to-skin. When I was pregnant I didn’t fully grasp, for whatever reason, that it didn’t just mean holding your baby lots, but actually meant what it says – rip off that clothing that stands in between you and your baby and go literally skin-to-skin!
Here are a few of the benefits of skin-to-skin contact:
- Calms your baby – lowers her blood pressure and reduces crying
- Great for baby’s microbiotic health and immune system as baby is populated/seeded with parent’s microflora
- Stabilizes baby’s blood sugar
- Facilitates bonding
- Helps get breastfeeding off to a good start; ideally in the 1st hour or two after birth
- A breastfeeding mother’s chest is baby’s perfect “warmer” as it heats up warmer than the rest of mom’s body
- Baby adopts parent’s healthy respiratory patterns, contributing to safer sleep and optimal development
A few weeks ago, I had the rare opportunity through NYU Langone Medical Center’s Perinatal Outreach Program to take an all-day class with Dr. Nils Bergman, who is a pioneer in the birth world – specifically on the topic of kangaroo mother care/skin-to-skin benefits. It was fascinating to go deeper into the science behind the importance of skin-to-skin contact.
I initially wrote a blog post (and compiled my colleagues’ contributions, as well) for educator colleagues; below is a slightly modified version that is tailored a bit more for expectant parents.
Here are selected favorite takeaways from the day on the topic:
- Two critical sensory/brain needs of a newborn are smell & contact
- 1st 1,000 days critical for neurodevelopment/brain wiring (this includes the gestational time, so equals the first 2 years of life).
- Maternal absence doubles cortisol (“toxic stress”) levels of the infant
- Baby ideally stays skin-to-skin with breastfeeding mom for the first 1,000 minutes (almost 17 hours); Dr. Bergman writes: “Hospitals that are up to date with best practice and evidence-based medicine will strive to keep mother and baby together for the first hour. The new knowledge from NINO is that the first hour is only the first hour: the first 1,000 minutes is the important time to keep uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact and togetherness. 1,000 minutes is over 16 hours, practically speaking the first day and night. “Zero separation” time can be achieved with the help of father or any other family member, but mainly to support the mother to be able to spend as much time as possible with baby. In this way they can synchronise their wake-sleep time, they can learn each other’s body language. The newly fired pathways in both their brains become stronger and coordinated: this is what bonding is actually about.”
Keep in mind that babies are more resilient than we often give them credit for and can bounce back from separation if and when it is necessary. I always want to be careful to stay balanced in these things, as unnecessary guilt is not fruitful for parents or families. Any degree of skin-to-skin snuggling from any parent or loved one is always going to be beneficial. This Dr. Bergman video points to this.
The standard in many hospitals today is for baby to go straight to mom’s chest in an uncomplicated, vaginal birth. However, I recommend asking your care provider and advocating for this to be the case, if necessary, along with delaying as many newborn protocols for at least the first hour, so you can maximize the time just after birth – the “golden hour” – with lots of skin-to-skin contact.
- Video: Dr. Nils Bergman on Skin to Skin
- Giving Birth with Confidence (Lamaze) – The Wonder of Mothers: Skin-to-Skin Care
- Video: Keep Your Baby with You After Birth
- Birthful podcast: Ep. 56, SylviaHouston, Skin-to-Skin
“Nothing an infant can or can not do makes sense, except in light of mother’s body.” – Dr. Nils Bergman