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Baby Matters

Skin to Skin with Baby: The Power of Touch Between Mom and Baby

January 1st, 2016

By Angela Grant Buechner

There is something very special about seeing a mom hold her baby for the first time. Everything about that moment, from the way she's cuddling her baby, to seeing her stroke his head -- you just know she wants to do what's best for her baby.

As a neonatal nurse, I have been fortunate to observe that very moment hundreds of times.  The powerful interaction of skin-to-skin contact (also referred to as kangaroo care for premature infants) benefits babies in more ways than we think. Even the simplest of interactions during the first moments of life are an opportunity to shape a baby's overall health.

Why is touch so vitally important? Touch is one of the first senses to develop while the baby is still in the womb (between 7-8 weeks gestation). From their earliest weeks, babies depend on touch for exploring their world.

The research on skin-to-skin contact

Research has shown numerous benefits of skin-to-skin bonding time, especially for premature babies. Many of the benefits to a newborn revolve around their feelings of safety, warmth and comfort. Research on kangaroo care shows that it can stabilize premature babies more quickly and reliably than being in an incubator by better regulating their heart rate, breathing and temperature. It can help premature babies gain weight faster and helps relieve pain when they need to have blood tests or other procedures done. In both full term and preterm babies, skin to skin facilitates better sleep patterns, and it helps prevent a baby’s blood sugar from dropping too low. Skin-to-skin can increase milk production in breastfeeding mothers; it helps non-latching babies or those with a range of breastfeeding problems breastfeed more effectively and enables greater bonding with parents, which positively impacts their brain and emotional development.

How will skin-to-skin contact help me with breastfeeding?

When your baby is in skin-to-skin contact, he is close to his food. He can see and smell the nipple/areola and this acts as a draw to encourage him to start to breastfeed. In addition, holding your baby in this way will help trigger the release of the hormones that can help to increase your breastmilk supply.

Practicing safe skin to skin at home

Here are a few tips I typically offer moms to increase opportunities for skin-to-skin contact and bonding after they leave the hospital:

  1.  Kangaroo care requires a comfortable chair with several pillows for support to help position the baby.
  2.  Mom should be in a reclined and relaxed position. Being inclined helps to ensure that baby’s airway stays open so breathing is not affected.  
  3.  Undress your baby down to the diaper and place him directly on your bare chest, vertically between your breasts. You may even choose to remove your bra for greater comfort and better skin-to-skin contact.
  4.   Turn baby’s face to the side in a position that opens baby’s airway.   
  5.  Cover with a blanket or consider using a wrap like SleepBelt, recommended by La Leche League International, for added support. In our hospital we now provide a SleepBelt for parents during skin-to-skin holding sessions, which helps securely position your baby on your belly, while maintaining warmth and privacy. SleepBelt has a soft, stretchy fabric that mimics the womb, so even the smallest of babies can be comfortable and secure. It doesn’t have complicated buckles, knots or straps, which enables easy transfer from chest to crib. SleepBelts have been used in NICU’s on babies as small as 1200g. It is a terrific hospital bag item for parents because it enables a hands-free, and safer skin-to-skin experience (I used one myself!).
  6.  Practice skin-to-skin for as long as possible and as frequently as possible during the postpartum period. I encourage families to practice skin-to-skin for an uninterrupted 60 minutes, as much and as often as possible, during the first 12 weeks and beyond.
  7.  Get Dad involved too. Kangaroo care can empower dads so they also feel like a significant person in their infant’s life, and babies love skin-to-skin holding with Dads and partners too!

Though seemingly simple, this practice has so many proven benefits. Moms and dads can enjoy skin-to-skin cuddling even more knowing this act of love has such a positive impact on their baby's development.

Angela is a Registered Nurse and an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant who has spent over 15 years working in one of the largest Neonatal Intensive Care Units in North America.  She is the mother of three children, and also runs her own private lactation practice ‘Nutmeg Consulting’, helping new moms achieve better breastfeeding outcomes.  



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