There is an undeniable amount of research on the natural benefits of skin-to-skin contact for mum and baby.
Essentially, skin-to-skin contact is simply that, babies’ skin against their parents’ skin immediately after birth and continuing later at home. It naturally regulates a new-born’s temperature, heart rate and breathing while elevating their blood sugar which is essential for energy. It also encourages breastfeeding and colonises the baby’s natural gut bacteria to that of its mother, making their intestinal bacteria more diverse, protecting them from illness and infection.
Skin-to-skin is not just reserved for mum, however. It is vitally important that dad also partakes in this ancient art of snuggling with their new-born. In fact, this close contact with dad brings about many of the same remarkable benefits as it does with mum. Being warm and snug in your arms, is your new-born’s favourite place to be. They often cry less, sleep better and are more content when warm against your skin. Be that mum or dads.
The benefits of skin-to-skin with dad are not always advertised as strongly as they are with mum considering an important facet of this connection is establishing breastfeeding. But when a father has the opportunity to hold their baby close, skin-to-skin, we see the love hormone, oxytocin, doing exactly what it needs to – creating the natural bond between parent and child and helping you to fall in love with them. This is the same hormone that makes a woman’s uterus contract in labour.
The close bond and connection of skin-to-skin contact is something to cherish in those first days of parenthood
Research has also shown skin-to-skin helps to develop more caring behaviour in dad and also a more sensitive approach to parenting. Furthermore, it has been shown to decrease cortisol levels in new dads which is greatly linked to anxiety. Less stress and less anxiety have a direct positive, correlation on the parent’s relationship which naturally affects the family dynamic.
Avril Flynn is a midwife and childbirth educator. She provides birth and baby classes to pregnant couples and single parents but also to families who are growing their families through surrogacy or adoption, including same sex parents. Flynn says, as Mum has carried the baby for nearly 10 months, bonding has already started. For Dad, holding his new-born is the start of that magic process.
Research has shown that men who hold their baby close in the first 24 hours after their baby is born, report better bonding with their new-born. This is one essential and beautiful result from skin-to-skin contact. “Studies have shown that skin-to-skin lowers the heart rate and stress hormones in the baby,” Flynn explains. “It is the natural and physiological norm for them to be held close, your skin onto theirs. They can hear the heart, and they know their parents’ smell. New-borns will clearly exhibit more calm behaviour while skin-to-skin, releasing oxytocin in both baby and parent. Much like direct contact with mum, it also colonises the baby’s skin with the natural flora that exists on dad’s skin which helps kick start their immune system.”
There is very little reason why skin-to-skin cannot occur. It is possible directly after caesarean section and can also help the premature baby. Once Mum and baby are doing well, the close bond and connection of skin-to-skin contact is something to cherish in those first days of parenthood. Due to naturally beginning breastfeeding, often those initial first few hours are reserved for skin-to-skin with mum, but where possible, dad should take the time to share the connection.
“There is the golden hour after birth where it is recommended mum and baby are left together, skin-to-skin, and undisturbed,” says Flynn, “The realities of modern birth sometimes make this an unrealistic possibility, for example, if mum is unwell after the birth. Dad can get involved, and even if all has gone well, it should be encouraged after every baby is born. It also starts to share the load between both parents and includes dad fully in the nurturing beauty that can happen right after their little human is born. It’s a very special moment.”
We know the benefits of skin-to skin for both parents and baby are huge. So big in fact, that it can influence our brain. "Just a half hour of skin-to-skin for dad essentially rewires their brain," Flynn explains, "by increasing dopamine and oxytocin and lowered testosterone, meaning dad will have an automatic positive association from close contact with their baby. Nils Bergman has written and lectured extensively on its importance."
Thankfully, dads are encouraged to hold their new-born close with direct skin contact while in the maternity ward and advised to continue the practice at home. The method is simple and relaxing allowing for those perfect moments to get to know your baby.
Encouraging skin-to-skin with dads has a strong base on their parenting aims and abilities with many men reporting greater confidence and understanding
Simply find a comfortable chair, prop your arms and back with cushions as you may be sitting or lying a while. Place your baby, wearing only a nappy, on your bare chest and cover them with a blanket to stay warm. Holding your baby upright, support your little one with two hands and enjoy the bonding moment knowing how important it is to both you and your new-born. Let the world slow down. Alternatively, as baby grows, using a sling or wrap to hold your baby close, bare chest to bare chest, singing and talking to your baby, is a perfect way to continue that bond while getting work done around the house.
“It is such a lovely way for dads to feel close and have that connection with their little one,” says Flynn, “dads can be very nervous with a small baby so it really builds their confidence when they can see their skin and presence soothes their baby. It will also give mum a break!”
Encouraging skin-to-skin with dads has a strong base on their parenting aims and abilities with many men reporting greater confidence, understanding, and willingness to be greatly involved in the role of dad. It is one of the ways the naturally caring instincts of dads are fortified.
Read: Why skin-to-skin care is best