What is skin-to-skin contact and what are the benefits?

Medically reviewed December 2021
skin to skin contact newborn baby Naytal

Short on time? Then the key things to know are:

  • Skin-to-skin contact is not only a delightful way to hold your newborn baby for the very first time, but it comes with a whole load of physiological benefits too
  • Skin-to-skin contact is beneficial for everyone, not just those wishing to breastfeed
  • Skin-to-skin contact can be practised at any time, not just immediately after birth
  • Research suggests that skin-to-skin contact can help to reduce the chances of postnatal depression
  • Skin-to-skin with Dad can help improve their bond with their new baby

 

What is skin-to-skin contact?

Skin-to-skin contact is when the baby is placed immediately following birth onto their mother’s chest and covered with (ideally warm) blankets or towels.

In an ideal scenario the baby won’t leave this cozy spot for quite some time and will stay there until they have had their first feed. This is the only place that baby wants to be and where they will feel most comforted following birth.

When should I start having skin-to-skin contact with my baby?

Skin-to-skin can also be practiced at any time following birth, this practice will continue to calm and settle the baby. It will also continue to encourage the mother’s milk supply each time you enjoy that skin on skin cuddle.

Can I have skin-to-skin contact with my baby if I’ve had a Caesarean section?

Skin-to-skin contact can be practiced following any birth. Skin-to-skin contact following a c section is most definitely recommended and can almost always be facilitated.

Benefits of skin-to-skin contact after birth

  • It regulates baby’s temperature
  • Regulates baby heartbeat
  • Baby will recognise the mothers smell and will therefore calm down after the shock of being born
  • It stimulates milk production
  • It stimulates the production of oxytocin, which causes the uterus to contract and will therefore reduce the amount of postpartum bleeding
  • It enables the colonisation of the baby’s skin with the mother’s friendly bacteria which provides protection against infection

What is Kangaroo care?

Kangaroo care is the practice of skin-to-skin contact for babies that are in the neonatal intensive care unit, again this has massive calming effects for the baby and can help parents to build a special bond with their baby. This type of skin-to-skin contact has been proved to reduce the amount of time that these little babies need to spend in hospital and can help with their gut maturity as well as their growth.

Benefits of skin-to-skin contact for premature babies on the neonatal unit

  • Better oxygen saturation (more oxygen in their circulatory system)
  • Less cortisol in their system and therefore calmer and less stressed
  • It encourages baby to breastfeed
  • Helps them to grow
  • Can on occasion reduce the amount of time that the baby needs to spend in hospital
  • Will stimulate the mother’s milk supply, which will enable her to express more milk if the baby is too small to latch on properly

What does skin-to-skin contact do?

Skin-to-skin contact has been said to stimulate a specific part of a newborn’s brain. As the baby is placed onto its mother’s skin, they will begin to wake and start to open their eyes and become more responsive to the mother’s voice. The baby is stimulated to lift their knees up and effectively move or crawl towards their mother’s breast, attach and begin feeding.

Is skin-to-skin contact just for breastfeeding mothers?

Even if you are not planning to breastfeed, holding your baby in this position and offering the first feed, whilst maintaining skin-to-skin contact, will encourage the baby to feed well.

Skin-to-skin contact and postnatal depression

Recent research also suggests that skin-to-skin contact might inhibit the development of postnatal depression, if skin-to-skin contact reduces cortisol levels in both the baby and the mother, this is highly likely. This is especially so, if parents continue to have skin-to-skin contact at regular intervals at home after birth.

Skin to skin contact with Dads

Skin-to-skin contact is not just reserved for mothers, Dads can most certainly get involved too.

Skin-to-skin contact between the newborn and their father is not often spoken about due to the main benefit of the skin-to-skin contact being that it will assist with the breastfeeding.

However, research has shown that skin-to-skin contact will help to develop a more caring behaviour in Dads and a more sensitive approach to parenting. It has also been shown to reduce cortisol levels in dads and therefore reduce levels of anxiety. The close bond and connection of skin-to-skin contact is something to cherish in those first few days of parenthood.

For more information head to www.unicef.org.uk

Looking for support with your pregnancy? Book an appointment with one of our private midwives at a time that suits you to get specialist advice with any concerns.

Kate, Naytal Midwife

Kate has been a Midwife within the NHS for more than 15 years and supports women to work harmoniously with their bodies and tune into their intuitions.

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