After many months of pregnancy and the hard work of labor and delivery, the moment you’ve been waiting for is finally here. You get to hold your newborn baby for the first time. Holding your baby isn’t just part of the job for a new parent. Cradling your baby skin-to-skin has mental, emotional, and physical benefits for the whole family.
What Is Skin-to-Skin Contact?
Also known as kangaroo care, skin-to-skin contact is holding your undressed baby belly-down on your bare chest. Gently turn their head to the side so his or her airway is open and you can see the baby’s face.
Wrap a blanket across your baby’s back and around the front of your body—like a kangaroo mother holding her baby in her pouch. This creates a warm, prolonged hug between the two of you.
The skin-to-skin position is highly recommended for at least the first 60-90 minutes after birth. This intimate interaction promotes affectionate bonding and gives your newborn a sense of safety in the outside world.
Why is Skin-to-Skin Care Necessary After Birth?
Holding your baby in your arms for the first time is a long-anticipated moment. This is usually a time of overwhelming emotion for new moms. Your first embrace releases the hormone oxytocin through your body, causing strong feelings of love and protection to arise.
Your mood and overall ability to connect with your baby are affected greatly by your birth experience. If you had a long or traumatic labor and delivery or things didn’t go according to your birth plan, it may take longer to feel an emotional attachment to your newborn baby—which is perfectly normal. Continuing to practice skin-to-skin care will increase the bonding sensation more each time.
Along with the emotional connection, early skin-to-skin contact has a positive impact on your baby’s immune system, brain development, and the regulation of their bodily functions.
What Are the Benefits of Skin-to-Skin Contact?
Leading experts in the field, such as the World Health Organization, American Academy of Pediatrics, Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, and the Neonatal Resuscitation Program, recommend skin-to-skin care to all families.
Neonatal intensive care units (NICU) recommend parents hold their premature babies skin-to-skin to assist in their development. NICU babies held against their parents feel relaxed and secure allowing them to make great strides in their health goals. Studies have shown that stable premature babies have better survival odds when they’re removed from the incubator and have ongoing contact with their mother’s body.
The skin-to-skin contact following the birth of your baby provides the best results when it’s done right away. It’s a relief for newborns to smell and feel their mother’s bodies after experiencing the stress of delivery. Skin-to-skin can also lower the baby’s stress hormone, cortisol, which can result in less crying and better quality sleep.
A study in 2011 showed that full-term babies with immediate skin-to-skin contact reached better heart rates, oxygen saturation, and cortisol levels significantly faster than those who received care delayed by just five minutes.
Babies can’t regulate their own body temperature so being snuggled up to their parents’ natural body heat helps them adjust. Holding your baby skin-to-skin also stabilizes their breathing patterns and blood sugar levels.
A hormone fluctuation is set into motion when you hold your newborn baby for the first hour post-birth. This helps to decrease the amount of postnatal bleeding and lowers your risk of postpartum depression.
Whether you have a vaginal birth or cesarean section, it’s critical for skin-to-skin contact to begin as soon as you’re stable. In the event of a medical emergency regarding you or your baby, your skin-to-skin time may be delayed.
Skin-to-skin care is still beneficial to you and your baby even if some time has passed before you have your first bonding moment together.
Although skin-to-skin contact is already important to most health care teams, you can make sure to let them know you want that interaction with your baby as soon as it’s medically safe to do so.
If you plan to breastfeed, this skin-to-skin time has an immediate positive impact on your milk supply and allows your baby to get familiar with the smell of your breast milk. The unrestricted access to your breast stimulates their natural suckling reflex to initiate their first latch.
The mother-infant relationship isn’t the only one that prospers from skin-to-skin contact. This kind of quality time can benefit the whole family when dads get to experience kangaroo care with their babies.
Creating your own skin-to-skin routine with the baby provides an opportunity for dad and baby bonding. Plan skin-to-skin time while bottle feeding your little one, after handling a diaper change, during bathtime or directly after the bath before you dress your baby.
Like moms, dads can help regulate their baby’s temperature by cuddling them close. With the assistance of your body heat, your baby’s body doesn’t have to work as hard to maintain its temperature—allowing all of its energy to prioritize development and growth.
How Long Should Skin-to-Skin Contact Continue?
Skin-to-skin contact during your hospital stay isn’t the only time this kind of care is important. You can continue to enjoy skin-to-skin care in the months to come or as long as it’s working for your family.
As your baby gets older and more mobile, this routine may not be as practical anymore or it may become uncomfortable for you and your partner. Whenever it feels like the right time to stop, you can show your love and support with hand-holding, back rubbing, and other expressions of affectionate touch.
If you’re a breastfeeding mom, you automatically receive some skin-to-skin contact each time your baby nurses, which may continue on longer than they’re willing to sit still for lengthy cuddles.
How Can We Practice Skin-to-Skin Contact at Home?
Once you’re home, set up an area to have skin-to-skin time with your baby. Choose a quiet room with some privacy so you can be completely focused on your time together without distractions.
Dress in a robe or open-front shirt with minimal or no clothing underneath. Then you can lay your baby against your skin while your arms and back are still covered.
Select a seat that’s comfortable to sit in for long stretches of time. Nurture& offers a collection of gliders that are the ideal setting for relaxing skin-to-skin time. With power recline and adjustable support features, you’ll have a cozy spot to bond with your baby.
Keep a blanket nearby that’s large enough to wrap around both of you. If you had a c-section it may be helpful to keep a pillow in your chair for extra support while you hold your little one.
Things to Remember Before You Start Skin-to-Skin Time
Skin-to-skin contact may seem like a pretty straight forward concept, but there are a few additional details you may not think of right away.
Your baby loves your natural smell. It’s best to steer clear of colognes or scented lotions while practicing skin-to-skin care. These have the potential to irritate your baby’s skin.
- Avoid smoking before holding your little one. The smoke can stick around on your body and then be breathed in by your baby.
- Wait to hold your baby if you’re overtired or feeling sick. It’s not worth the risk of dropping your baby or falling asleep with them in an unsafe position. While you rest, your partner or another caregiver may use this time to have skin-to-skin contact with the baby.
- A soft, thin barrier may be necessary if you or your baby have a rash or sore on the area of skin making contact.
- Do your best to limit distractions around you to get the most out of your precious skin-to-skin time.
To learn more about baby care, check out our blog to help answer all your questions. From pregnancy tips to baby nursery essentials and beyond, Nurture& is made for parents, by parents.