I’m a firm believer in doing things as close to the way God intended them as possible. When it comes to the miracle of birth, I strongly advocate for skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby. Physicians, midwives, and parents have promoted the benefits of skin-to-skin contact, or “kangaroo mother care,” between parents and babies for years. Now, several important studies have proven the benefits of skin contact directly after birth and beyond. Here’s what makes this special bonding time so important.
Ease Your Baby’s Entrance Into the World
Holding your infant close after giving birth is an excellent way to help regulate your baby’s body temperature. This is especially important in preterm infants that struggle with thermal regulation. In the womb, your baby didn’t regulate his or her own temperature. Skin-to-skin contact helps your baby adapt to the outside world temperature, which is good for physical and mental reasons. Your skin is the same temperature as your womb, giving your baby a familiar feeling right from the beginning.
Kangaroo care also reduces the baby’s stress levels. Skin contact is a type of sensory stimulation that releases the effects of oxytocin, a natural element that’s linked to anti-stress and wellbeing. Oxytocin – the “cuddle hormone” – released in the brain in response to touch, stroking, and warm temperatures contribute to the everyday health and stress relief. Giving this to your baby right after birth is an excellent way to ease what might otherwise be a traumatic experience. Continuing skin-to-skin contact throughout infancy can help cultivate a relaxing, stress-free home environment.
Promote Physical Health
Aside from keeping your baby relaxed and comfortable, body temperature regulation also leads to a physically healthier infant. Skin-to-skin contact regulates the baby’s body temperature, meaning the baby’s energy can instead be spent on healthy growth. One study from the Cochrane Library proved that kangaroo mother care can dramatically increase newborn weight gain, decreasing morbidity rates due to premature birth and low body weights. Weight gain is an important step in your baby’s life and something that will aid in his or her health far into the future.
Skin-to-skin contact also makes breastfeeding easier – another benefit for baby’s health. Placing your baby onto your skin helps him or her seek out the nipple and start breastfeeding. It can make all the difference for babies that have difficulty latching, especially right at the beginning. This contact also helps balance out the hormones that regulate lactation, leading to increased milk production. Kangarooing your baby can facilitate breastfeeding, making exclusive breastfeeding and breastfeeding for a longer amount of time easier on Mom.
Enjoy More Sleep
Believe it or not, skin-to-skin contact could be exactly what your restless baby needs to fall asleep at night. The Pediatrics Journal reported that premature babies who received skin-to-skin contact slept more deeply and awoke less often than those in incubators. Kangaroo care is soothing to a baby, promoting relaxation and deep sleep. This is a trick Dad can use to help put a restless baby back to sleep, taking some of the pressure off Mom. It helps dads bond with their babies while calming the infant and aiding sleep.
Get Closer as a Family
Skin-to-skin contact not only strengthens the bonds between babies and their mothers and fathers, but it can also help spousal relationships as well. Kangaroo care reduces the chance of postpartum depression and maternal anxiety, leading to a happier mom. In turn, this can lead to stronger feelings of togetherness during the sometimes difficult transition period right after the birth of a new baby. It’s a way for the whole family to bond and enjoys the benefits of oxytocin. When it comes to skin-to-skin contact, less isn’t more. So layer on the love, not the clothes!