Skin-to-Skin: A Crucial Choice for Your Baby

Mother and baby

How you spend the first few moments with your new baby is incredibly impactful. Studies have shown that human touch is beneficial for both mental and physical health, and it is especially beneficial for newborn babies. In fact, it’s so important for babies, that many hospitals and healthcare providers have developed protocols to encourage physical contact between newborns and their parents immediately after delivery.

The Family Birthplace at West Suburban Medical Center is at the forefront of this practice. Our Birthplace encourages skin-to-skin contact between you and your baby and our experienced and caring team explains how you can continue the benefits of affective touch after you leave the hospital.

What is Skin-to-Skin?

Also called “kangaroo care,” skin-to-skin contact is when the baby is placed belly down on your chest right after birth. Often, the mother will be the baby’s first physical contact, but it is also a wonderful way for the father or another parenting partner to participate in bonding with your new infant.

Many hospitals will only allow parents to hold the baby after he or she has been cleaned and weighed. However, at West Suburban Medical Center, if there is no immediate medical risk to mother or baby, we typically accommodate and encourage skin-to-skin contact immediately after delivery, if that’s your preference. If you’ve had a C-section, or if your baby needs neonatal care right after birth, we prioritize your physical bonding with your baby as soon as it is medically safe.

The baby should be naked or wearing only a diaper and/or hat for comfort. A mother or father may place the baby on their bare chest. Skin-to-skin contact often helps to quickly stabilize the baby’s heart rate, body temperature, and breathing rhythm. It’s beneficial to get as much skin-to-skin contact that is safely possible during the first one to two hours after birth.

Skin-to-Skin Health Benefits

Numerous studies have confirmed the benefits for early skin-to-skin care, both in the emotional and physiological development of babies. Health benefits of skin-to-skin care may include the following:

  • Heart and lung function: Babies’ heart and breathing rates stabilize more quickly and stay at a normal rate more often than babies who do not receive skin-to-skin care.
  • Body temperature: To a newborn, the world is very cold and they don’t yet have the ability to adjust their own body temperature. A mother’s body heat is actually more effective at keeping a baby warm than any artificial nursery warmer!
  • Blood sugar regulation: In the womb, babies receive glucose through the placenta. After birth, babies obtain glucose from breastmilk, but sometimes the baby’s glucose needs aren’t fully met with breastmilk, causing low blood sugar. Research has found that skin-to-skin care after birth can help babies stabilize blood sugar.
  • Good bacteria transfer: Skin-to-skin contact can expose the baby to their mother’s “good” bacteria that can help keep the baby healthy.

Bonding and Breastfeeding Benefits

Mother breastfeedingEarly skin-to-skin contact within two hours after birth can even mean a better long-term bond for mother and baby. Researchers say that, even after 12 months, mothers who had skin contact with their babies after birth snuggled more with their babies later on. Babies who had skin-to-skin contact also showed better emotional and behavioral self-control at a year old.

Breastfeeding is highly encouraged as the best skin-to-skin contact for baby and for mother. Multiple studies have shown that babies held close to the skin after birth have an easier time breastfeeding and tend to breastfeed six weeks longer than those without skin-to-skin contact.

Skin-to-Skin for Premature Infants

West Suburban Medical Center has a Level II Nursery and a partnership with Lurie Children’s Hospital to make sure our littlest patients have direct access to advanced care. Specially-trained neonatal registered nurses and Lurie Children’s neonatologists are on staff 24-hours a day. Even for premature infants, we help accommodate skin-to-skin contact when possible, encouraging parents to physically bond with their baby each day in the nursery.

Some studies have shown that skin-to-skin contact is an effective pain relief method for infants, particularly preterm infants. Other research has even shown that, for premature infants, the benefits of early physical contact are measurable even at 10 years of age. These children showed better sleep patterns, better responses to stress, better functioning nervous systems, and better cognitive control.

Benefits of Rooming-In

In order to support continued skin-to-skin contact in the first days after birth, West Suburban Medical Center’s Family Birthplace has your newborn stay in the room with you after birth, also known as “rooming-in.” In addition to giving you more time for physical bonding, there are additional benefits of rooming-in, including helping mother-baby communication, as mothers can respond more quickly to a baby’s feeding cues. Mothers who room-in with babies also tend to make more breast milk faster. Babies who room-in tend to be calmer and cry less.

Continued Bonding After You Leave the Hospital

Father and babyWhile the benefits of skin touch right after birth and within the first few days of life are many, your baby needs continued touch and personal attention after you leave the hospital. Often, feeding time is a wonderful opportunity to continue this important bonding.

Skin-to-skin can be a strategy to comfort or relax a baby who seems anxious or distressed or who is having trouble breastfeeding, by helping the baby feel warm and secure. Continued skin contact may enhance brain development in babies and help support healthy bonding between parents and baby.

“Tummy time”—the important time each day babies should spend on their stomachs, in order to develop their shoulder and neck muscles—is a great opportunity for skin-to-skin bonding

as well. Instead of doing tummy time on the floor, you can place your growing infant on your bare chest for some face-to-face tummy time.

Some parents will physically bond with their baby at home while practicing babywearing. Infant massage is another great way to incorporate physical touch into your baby’s ongoing routine and also carries a number of health benefits for your baby.

Let Us Help You Nurture Your Little One

We’re here to provide a safe, supportive atmosphere for you and your little one during the first moments of life. And getting ready to take the best care of your baby can begin before the big day arrives! Call 708-763-6518 to register for one of our Baby Care 101 classes to learn more about how to care for your newborn, including swaddling, soothing, and comfort techniques.