When my kids were born, I brought them directly onto my chest. It was hands-down the most beautiful moment of my life (each time!). When they were babies, we did a lot of snuggling skin-to-skin, and I found it extremely important, in a lot of ways. When my son was born, our immediate contact helped warm him up and regulate his body temperature. And I was amazed when I brought my daughter onto my chest that she did the breast crawl along my bare skin; I couldn’t believe we were on the road to breastfeeding so quickly! Skin-to-skin came in handy later, too, like when my babies were upset and needed soothing. That was a real lifesaver.
Skin-to-skin (sometimes referred to as “kangaroo care,” a broader method of newborn care) is the act of holding the naked infant (in a nappy is fine) against mum or dad’s skin, in an effort to warm the baby and offer the security he felt in the womb. The nerve fibres between the belly button and sternum are very sensitive, and when the hormone corticotrophin is released during skin-to-skin contact, it initiates a cascade of hormones, which help reduce baby’s stress levels, explains Barbara Lawson, a lactation specialist.
“While this intervention was implemented for premature babies who needed to be in an incubator, it is encouraged for babies of all gestational ages,” says Lawson, adding that being born is stressful — not only for babies but parents, too – and that holding a baby against the skin benefits everyone involved.
Cuddling your baby skin-to-skin can have numerous benefits, from more successful breastfeeding, to regulating baby’s heart rate. Read on for all the benefits of giving your baby plenty of skin-to-skin cuddling.
1. Skin-to-skin contact helps your baby regulate her temperature. “Babies can’t regulate their temperature and they get cold quite rapidly,” explains Dr. Katie Friedman, a paediatrician with Forever Freckled. If you’re wondering where mum’s temp-controlling super power comes from, it’s her boobs! “When babies are in kangaroo care with mums, the breasts actually heat up and cool down depending on the baby’s temp,” adds Lawson. “Mums can actually hold twins and the breasts work separately.” How cool is that?!
2. Snuggling with your baby helps regulate his heart rate and breathing. Being born is stressful, and it can be tough for a newborn to take those first breaths of air in the outside world. “Putting baby on your chest regulates baby’s heart rate and breathing habits and warms her up,” says Dr. Friedman. Snuggling with mum—listening to the heart beating through mum’s chest as well as her breathing pattern—is a great way to calm your baby down, which in turn regulates her heart rate and breathing pattern.
3. It decreases your chances of having postnatal depression. Studies show that skin-to-skin contact can help decrease the possibility of postnatal depression in new mums. “It releases the hormone that gets you to breastfeed,” explains Dr. Friedman, adding that oxytocin is also known as the “happy hormone!”
4. Skin-to-skin contact helps you bond with your baby. It’s no surprise that hugging your baby is a great way to bond! And not just for mums. “Skin-to-skin is great for dads because they haven’t been carrying the baby,” adds Dr. Friedman. Creating a strong parent/baby relationship will help strengthen your communication with your baby, enabling you to better understand when he is hungry, full, or in pain, and that, in turn, will also boost mum and dad’s confidence, too.
5. Cuddling with your baby helps promote breastfeeding. Dr. Friedman explains that the skin-to-skin contact gives your baby the familiarity of the skin and helps baby get a good latch. Although skin-to-skin has been shown to help produce more breast milk and ease breastfeeding, Dr. Friedman stresses that you can still experience this type of connection if you are not breastfeeding. Having a little topless cuddle time before bottle-feeding is also a great way to bond with your baby.
6. Your baby is more likely to gain weight with frequent close contact. Providing additional opportunities to breastfeed, skin-to-skin and kangaroo care have been shown to improve weight gain in newborn babies. Another factor? Warm babies don’t need to use up all their energy to stay warm and can therefore hang onto more kilojoules.
7. Babies with frequent close contact sleep better. Skin-to-skin cuddling will help calm your baby down, making her more willing to fall asleep and therefore creating a better sleeping pattern. Lawson specifies that full-term babies (born 37 and 42 weeks) and preterm infants (born between 32 and 38 weeks) should get 60 to 70 minutes of kangaroo care — in one sitting — in order to allow the baby to complete one full sleep cycle. Any baby born before 32 weeks will need a longer dose of skin-to-skin, about 75 to 90 minutes.
You can’t go wrong with a little (or a lot) of skin-to-skin contact with your baby! It’s a great way to bond, stabilise them, and help your baby acclimate to the outside world. Just remember that, as a new parent, you’re likely to be sleep deprived, so be wary of when your skin-to-skin contact takes place and that there is no danger of suffocating your baby. (Dr. Friedman suggests avoiding skin-to-skin if you’ve had a glass of wine or are taking medication that may cause drowsiness.) It’s a great idea to get into a skin-to-skin pattern—right after bath time, for instance, when baby is cold and in need of a cuddle.