What is Skin-To-Skin Contact and why is it useful?
During pregnancy, babies are as close to their mother’s as they can be, getting warmth, food, protection, and oxygen from their mother’s body. Then, labour occurs and babies suddenly find themselves without immediate access to those essential needs. It is not surprising that many research studies have shown a host of benefits for babies who are offered skin-to-skin care with their mother’s. When babies are held naked against their mother’s skin, it is the closest they can get to being back in the warmth and security of the womb.
Whenever possible, mothers and babies should be in direct contact for at least the first 1–2 hours after birth. During skin-to-skin, the baby is naked and is placed on the mother’s bare chest, between her breasts. A blanket should be draped over both of them for warmth. If the mother is unable to provide skin-to-skin care, due to labour or birth complications, then her partner, friend or family member can step in. Within minutes, you will see the benefits of skin-to-skin care become evident as both mother and baby relax and the baby’s body temperature, breathing, and heart rate stabilise.
Here are the 5 leading benefits of skin-to-skin care:
1. Improvement in heart and lung function
Babies go through a dramatic transition after birth as they prepare to take their first breaths of air outside the uterus. Babies held skin-to-skin by their mother tend to adapt sooner than those who are not. They also tend to have heart and breathing rates that are both more normal and stable, this is thought to be because the mother’s heart sounds and breathing patterns are familiar to the baby after spending time in utero.
2. Stabilisation of body temperature
During pregnancy, a mother maintains her baby’s temperature by sweating when hot and shivering and moving around when cold. After birth, babies have don’t have this same ability, so they can’t adjust their own body temperature. In fact, when it comes to keeping a newborn warm, a mother’s body is better than a baby warmer.
3. Initiation of breastfeeding
An amazing video produced by UNICEF shows a newborn baby making his way toward his mother’s breast and latching on right after birth, known as the “breast crawl”. Every newborn when placed skin-to-skin with the mother soon after birth, has the ability to find their mother’s breast all on their own and to decide when to take the first breastfeed. An alert baby’s natural instincts can help them locate, latch on, and breastfeed.
4. Transfer of good bacteria
The role of vaginal birth versus cesarean birth in transferring good bacteria from a mother to her newborn can’t be overstated. Passage through the birth canal allows the baby’s gut to be colonized with the bacteria in the mother’s vagina. Another way that babies get exposed to their mother’s bacteria is through skin-to-skin contact after birth. Skin-to-skin contact also supports early breastfeeding after birth, which passes on constituents of breastmilk which help to coat the intestinal wall, boost digestive function and provide protection from harmful bacteria.
5. Reduction in crying
Research studies show that babies who are held in skin-to-skin contact, particularly by their mother, cry less than those separated from their mothers. During the newborn period, most babies cease crying once reunited with their mothers; which makes sense when you think about how a baby would feel protected and secure when close to their mother. Having the baby as close as possible to the mother at the hospital can help ensure that she is able to respond to her baby’s needs and provide frequent skin-to-skin contact.