Human touch can change everything. Skin-to-skin bonding, where a new baby is placed directly onto their mother's chest immediately after birth, has been shown to have many benefits that help the health and wellbeing of the baby, while also creating a strong bond between the mother (and the father), and their new baby.
That human touch lets the baby know that they are loved and cherished, safe and protected. It is sometimes known as kangaroo care because snuggling of the infant inside the pouch of their parent's shirt or cloth is similar to a kangaroo's pouch.
Here are some of the main benefits of skin-to-skin contact after birth:
The traditional medical model for birth encouraged mothers to put their newborn babies in warmers and have them sent to the nursery to be monitored, while the new mother rests. This is now being replaced, by mothers and babies staying together to bond, unless there is a medical condition that requires separation. Your newborn bonds through smell and touch and their senses are programmed to respond to your unique smell and the feel of your bare skin. This is your baby’s first journey into a whole new world and this precious time between mother and baby is one to cherish, as you get to know each other. Both the mother and baby are naturally programmed to form an intense connection with each other, and the power of touch is not only good for your baby, it's good for mothers, too.
It is as nature intended
A newborn baby, like any animal or mammal, has a natural habitat. When a baby is suddenly out of the womb and not in its natural habitat anymore, it can show signs of stress, and when a baby is swaddled up it cannot interact with its mother the way that nature intended. Having skin-to-skin contact means the baby feels their mother’s heartbeat, which it was used to in the womb, and the mother and baby have a chance to bond as the baby is gently eased into their new habitat.
Amy Breen's daughter, Rose, is two years old and when she was born Breen says that the skin-to-skin contact with her baby felt totally natural. "At the same time feeling like an outer body experience, and there was the bonus of distracting me from the pain. I just felt overwhelmingly content, relieved, happy and slightly super womanly with her lying on me and knowing we were together for life now. If skin to skin didn't happen for some reason I don't think it would have ultimately affected our bonding, but I'm so glad it did happen and wouldn't have wanted it any other way.”
It helps with breast feeding
The baby is more likely to latch on to the mother and, more likely to latch on well, if there is skin-to-skin contact. Newborns have a heightened sense of smell so, placing your baby on your chest helps the baby find your nipple naturally and begin breastfeeding. The baby is also more likely to breastfeed exclusively, and breastfeed longer, after skin-to-skin contact, and is more in tune with indicating to its mother when he or she wants to feed. Sometimes there are medical reasons that prevent skin-to-skin contact after birth but, there is no reason that the vast majority of babies cannot have skin to skin contact with the mother immediately after birth for at least an hour. Some hospitals are adopting the "weight can wait" philosophy, so routines like weighing the baby can be done later, after mother and baby have been given a chance to bond.
Better mother and baby communication
During the time when mother and baby are bonding after birth the mother gets the chance to learn about her baby’s behavior: when it’s hungry, when it’s upset, and when it’s full. When the mother learns her baby’s signals quickly it gives her maternal confidence and improves communication, along with the baby’s trust in their mother.
Health benefits for baby
Skin-to-skin care has been shown to help maintain the baby's body temperature, their heart rate, their blood sugar levels, their respiratory rate and also keep their blood pressure at a normal level. Mother and baby coordinate heart rhythms to be within milliseconds of each other when the mother show signs of affection. When babies are warm, they don't need to use their energy to regulate their body temperature, so they can use that energy to grow instead.
The baby is less likely to cry
Something all parents hope for. Studies show that babies who have skin-to-skin contact, particularly with their mother, are less likely to cry than those separated from their mothers. It makes sense that a baby is less likely to cry when they can feel the protection and security provided by their mother. Babies held skin to skin by their mothers are more likely to adapt quicker than those who are not. These babies are likely to experience less stress as they begin finding their way through their new world.
Snuggles with dad help too
If the mother needs a caesarean then dads can hold their baby, skin to skin, while the mother recovers. In the first few days, being able to relieve the mother and support her is extremely important. From their time in the womb, babies will recognise their father’s voice, so having skin-to-skin contact with dad can be calming for babies, and the cuddles also helps them to bond.