What is skin-to-skin?
Skin-to-skin Contact (SSC) means holding your newborn on yourself, bare chest against bare chest, with baby positioned vertically.
It can be done from birth at the hospital or at home thereafter, throughout the 4th trimester. It is usually done in a sitting or semi-laying position.
The benefits of this gesture, which is quite natural and instinctive for all primates and other mammals (just like breastfeeding) is too often underestimated, although it can sometimes brings small miracles!
It is suggested to practice skin-to-skin contact several times a day, for at least 60 minutes at a time, decreasing slowly until about 3 months for full term baby and even longer more for premature baby.
In a medical environment, skin-to-skin contact is often referred to as the Kangaroo Care method.
The caring skin-to-skin contact can be done by Mom or Dad.
Benefits of skin-to-skin on full-term babies
Establishes contact, confidence and bonding with parents mainly with touch, hearing and smell throughout the 4th quarter.
Stabilizes baby's temperature. Newborns can easily lose too much heat from their bodies, putting them at risk of low blood sugars and / or hypothermia and / or fat loss that can affects their growth. Baby's body temperature stabilizes when held skin to skin. Mother's body can change chest surface temperature by several degrees in just few seconds to naturally warm or cool baby as needed. NOTE: Dad can warm baby but does not stabilize his/her temperature, so may need to uncover baby's head to ensure no overheat.
Stimulates and releases innate reflexes such as crawling and breast search. When babies are held in skin to skin contact in the first hour after they are born they will root and suckle at the breast initiating their first feed, they are twice as likely to breastfeed in this time than babies who are swaddled. The familiar scent from the mother's breast triggers feeding behaviours in the baby and contact with their mother's skin helps them locate and attach to the breast. Rates of breastfeeding are higher in babies given regular skin to skin and they are more likely to breastfeed for longer.
Improves the development and maturation of cerebral functions (essential neuronal pathways) and provides a better quality of sleep cycle. Baby falls asleep more easily in SSC and reaches the "QUIET SLEEP" (QS) which contributes to improve organizational patterns of brain. Synaptic responses to stress and early trauma can shape how a child responds to emotional stress later in life. Skin-to-skin contact (SSC) reduces the impact of early stress.
Strenghtens the immune system by increasing breastfeeding, mother's body can respond to baby's saliva pathogens and produce antibodies in her breast milk. Also, when SSC, baby's skin assimilates the natural bacterial flora of mother and increases his skin hydration (better protective barrier against harmful bacteria). Exposure to the mother's colonised skin bacteria stimulates the baby's immune system, this helps prepare the baby's body to fight off other pathogens from their wider environment. At medical level, there are generally fewer infections and also a higher / more stable blood sugar in babies who have been SSC.
Reduces crying and increases smiles. SSC gives babies crucial feelings of security and belonging. Babies with 20 to 30 minutes of skin-to-skin contact have lower levels of stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) and increased levels of oxytocin - which promotes relaxation and well-being. Stress can affect baby's ability to fight infection, digest nutrients and sleep well. Skin-to-skin sessions improve the quality of sleep, soothe baby, who cries less and is less agitated. Response to pain sensation is also reduced.
Improves digestion and weight gain: The reduction of cortisol in babies during SSC allows better absorption and digestion of nutrients while reducing gastro-intestinal problems. Thermoregulation during skin to skin contact means the baby can more easily maintain the natural layer of fat they are born with which can help them maintain birth weight and ensures better weight gain. Vagal nerve stimulation during skin to skin contact and suckling promotes the healthy maturation of the baby's gut. After just one hour of skin to skin the child's digestive system is restored and balanced for optimum performance.
Offers a comfortable, healthy and ergonomic physiological positioning especially for baby's hips and REDUCES RISKS of certain anatomic deformations due to positioning, such as plagiocephaly.
Benefits of skin-to-skin contact for premature, low weight or weakened babies
Helps to regulate heart beat and breathing. Babies can synchronise their breathing and heart rate with their parent when held in skin to skin contact. This helps their developing systems learn to self regulate resulting in a more regular and stable pattern of heart beat rate and breathing. Babies, particularly those born prematurely can suffer episodes of sporadic breathing or slow heart rate problems. These are reduced by up to 75% through skin to skin contact.
By stabilizing temperature, heart rate and respiration and reducing the risk of infections, mortality in weakened newborns is reduced, especially where medical help is deficient or absent **.
Benefits of skin-to-skin contact for moms
Reduces doubts about parental skills and the parent's separation anxiety and helplessness during interventions.
Improves milk production and supports breastfeeding behaviours. Mothers who get SSC to start are more likely to continue exclusive breastfeeding when they come back home. The increase of oxytocin and maternal prolactin in the first hours after birth seems to have long-term effects to increase milk production. Moms who have breastfeeding difficulties are likely to see almost immediate improvement practicing skin to skin for a period of at least 1 hour, 1-2 times a day.
Reduces postnatal recovery time: The release of oxytocin reduces blood pressure, lowers cortisol levels (stress hormone) and reduces postnatal bleeding, promoting faster recovery.
Promotes psychological well-being and reinforces bonding in a healthy and long-term way. Prolonged contact with the body has positive effects on the adult brain. Increasing oxytocin levels reduces the risk of post-partum depressions, creates a feeling of confidence, affection and well-being. Moms - and dads - who have skin-to-skin contact will become more sensitive and more aware of their baby's needs.
Facilitates initiation and transition to "regular" babywearing. SSC is the first step to babywearing. Accustomed to being held and carried, baby will be quieter when learning to tie woven wraps or others. Baby will naturally seek this contact and this proximity when he/she feels insecure.
Some certified babywearing consultants have also a Kangaroo Care certification and can help you to learn both skin to skin and "regular babywearing" afterward. E.i. Rachel Gaston-Pifer, Certified Babywearing Consultant, CBWS