Why Is Skin-to-Skin Contact Important?

Skin-to-Skin Sep 21, 2021

Skin to skin contact refers to when a baby is placed directly onto the mother or father's chest.

All newborn babies crave skin contact. They've spent months inside the warm, cozy home of her womb. But now there's a cold, bright and very noisy world to adjust to, completely opposite from what they are accustomed to. It's no easy task for such a small being. The good news though, is that mom and dad can help their baby make this transition a little smoother.

How Skin to Skin Contact Simulates the Womb Environment

  • Your baby will hear your heartbeat,
  • He will recognize your voice,
  • Be soothed by the movement of your chest, as you breathe.
  • Your body regulates your baby's temperature, to stay warm and constant.

Skin to Skin at Birth

It doesn't matter what type of birth you have had; vaginal delivery or cesarean section, you and your baby can both benefit from this type of care.

Unless there is some medical reason that won't allow it, you should be allowed to have skin to skin time while being stitched up after a cesarean.

If you feel a bit overwhelmed by it all right after giving birth, you don't have to feel rushed. The benefits do not change, if some time passes before you and your baby get to spend skin to skin time together. Although there are certain things that happen immediately following birth when you are able to practice skin to skin care. (Such as when your baby becomes colonized with your bacteria first and not with the bacteria from the hospital environment.)

In our western culture, we've come to believe that it is normal for a mother and baby to be separated after birth.

We try to convince ourselves that it is today's technology that ensures a baby's survival. Yet research proves over and over again that all babies, especially premature babies, actually do far better when they are in constant contact with their mothers.

Fact is that a baby can be cared for medically on a mother's chest. In only very rare cases it is not possible or beneficial.

Babies who are in skin contact with their mothers, thrive better, heal quicker and stabilize much easier than when placed in incubators.

Biologically, separation is just not normal at all. The mother and her baby should be viewed as a dyad or pair, not as two separate persons (or patients).

The mother was the environment while her baby was growing inside her tummy and she should continue to be the environment for her baby after birth.

I love the way Dr Nils Bergman puts it. He says that skin to skin contact is not better than separated care. Separated care is worse. Being separated from the mother is normal practice, as in common practice, but it is by no means normal biologically.

If you had biology in school, you've probably learned about the basic biological needs we all have. Warmth, food and shelter. Amazingly, skin to skin contact with mom, breastfeeding as well as Kangaroo Mother Care provides exactly this!

So, your baby can spend energy on growing and thriving, instead of just surviving.

The Benefits of Skin to Skin Contact

  • The mother's skin provides warmth that is not only a way of maintaining the baby's temperature, but also provides calories to the baby.
  • Her breasts provide the perfect nutrition for her baby at all times, changing as needed. The first milk, colostrum has protective properties and after that her 'mature' milk comes in, which has different properties.
  • While she breastfeeds her baby, she also falls in love with that little person and will literally protect them with her life.

The Benefits for Baby

  • Breathing is easier and more rhythmical.
  • Heart rate is more likely to remain normal.
  • Oxygen levels improve.
  • They are able to maintain their blood sugar levels.
  • Maintain their body temperature.
  • Their blood pressure remains normal.
  • It has an analgesic effect on baby, meaning their pain threshold rises.
  • The baby is colonized by the same bacteria as their mother, and not the harmful bacteria from the hospital environment.
  • Breastfeeding is off to a good start sooner and for longer.
  • It promotes bonding with mom and dad.
  • These babies cry less and are generally calmer.
  • And most of all, it is soothing to all involved.

These benefits apply to all full-term newborn babies. But... when a baby is premature or low birth weight, skin to skin care becomes even more important and crucial for their well being. In this case, Kangaroo Mother Care should be implemented.

skin to skin with dad, kangaroo father care
Photo by Robert Bussey / Unsplash

Skin to skin With Dad?

Dad's can also provide skin to skin care for their babies.

A mother and father compliment each other, when they can work together in raising their child, because each provides differently for the baby and this produces a well-balanced person.

If the mother is unable to hold her baby after a cesarean or due to another birth complication (whether vaginal or c-section), or if she feels overwhelmed at first, the father can hold his baby skin to skin.

If they are parents of multiples (twins, triplets or more), the father can help out even more. Each parent can take turns to hold the baby skin to skin.

New research is showing that this practice is more beneficial for a baby, than being put in a crib or incubator. Except for the nutritional part (i.e. breastfeeding), the father's body still provides all the other benefits. But it is possible for him to feed the baby expressed breast milk or formula, using either a cup, syringe, nasogastric tube or a bottle.

The Nine Stages of Skin to Skin Care after Birth

When held skin to skin after birth, babies instinctively demonstrate some behaviors in a specific order. Here I'll explain those stages to you...

Stage 1
Birth Cry

You know that sound every single parent loves to hear most?

The very first cry of your brand new baby, telling you that their lungs have expanded and they are alive and well.

Stage 2

The baby has stopped crying, they are snuggling close to the mother's skin (maybe only covered with a blanket)

The mother and her baby relax. Not much hand or mouth movements from the baby, just a moment of serenity and bliss.

Stage 3

The baby starts to wake up and move a bit. His/her eyes might open, they might move their head and shoulders, their hands and their mouths.

This is more or less about 3 minutes after birth.

Stage 4

Now you will start to see the rooting reflex, as your baby shows more mouth movements and even some suckling movements.

The baby will move around more with the goal to get to the breast and start breastfeeding. More or less about 8 minutes after birth.

Stage 5

At any time during the first hour after birth, the baby will have periods of rest.

Stage 6

Now the baby is really making an effort to get to that liquid gold (aka breast milk). Making lots of body movements, the baby will work their way closer to the breast and nipple.

When the baby moves like this, it triggers the mother's oxytocin levels and her breasts get the message to start producing the milk. How awesome is that?! This happens more or less 35 minutes after birth.

Stage 7

The baby gets to know their mother, by licking her breast, getting acquainted with her scent and the smell of her milk.

The baby also uses their hands to massage and feel the breasts, which triggers the let-down reflex. This stage can last for up to 20 minutes and happens about 45 minutes after birth.

Stage 8

Finally,  the baby is at the breast and ready for their first feed. The baby latches on by themselves and starts to suckle at the breast, rewarded by the sweet tasting, all-important colostrum. Goal achieved. Depending on whether or not the mother had any pain medication and/or anesthetic, this stage may take a while. But, it usually starts about one hour after birth.

Stage 9

A satisfied baby and a satisfied mommy. The baby (and maybe mom too) fall blissfully asleep more or less one and a half to two hours after birth.

Even though it's preferable that nobody interferes in any way with mom and her baby at this time, it is essential to have a professional such as a doctor or nurse present, just in case help is needed. And especially if the mother has had any medication during the birth or if she had a cesarean section.

Your Birth Plan

If skin to skin after birth appeals to you, be sure to write it in your birth plan and find out ahead of time if your caregiver will grant your requests.

The sad thing is that not everyone is familiar with the positive effects that skin-to-skin care has to offer. So, you need to inform yourself and make sure that you make your wishes known to the staff and doctors that are going to be involved in your baby's birth.

Tell them that you have done some research on the benefits of skin to skin contact directly after birth and that you wish to have at least an hour or two of immediate, uninterrupted time with your baby, also with as little delay as possible.

You can also ask them to give all medications to your baby while on your chest (like the eye ointment and Vitamin K) and after that, the baby can be weighed.

Remember, this is YOUR baby. YOU have a say and the most important one! Speak up and make your wishes known, before and after the birth. If your partner or doula is with you, ask them to help ensure that your wishes are met.

As soon as your baby is born, they should be dried off and placed directly onto your chest. You both can be covered with a blanket or towel if the room isn't comfortably warm.

If you had a vaginal delivery, you could have your baby lying vertically on your abdomen or chest, while you deliver the placenta. And if you need any stitches, due to a tear or episiotomy, this can also be done while you hold your baby to your skin, getting to know each other.

It is also possible to practice skin to skin contact after a c-section, although you will have to discuss this with your doctor beforehand and make sure that your wishes are made known to all the staff that will be present.

Once you are moved into recovery, you can allow your baby to try and latch on by themselves.

When babies are able to latch on this way, they usually latch on well. When they latch on well, they immediately start to breastfeed, which results in higher blood sugar levels and your breastfeeding journey is off to a great start!

After giving birth, you will be flooded with the after birth hormones. Having your baby skin to skin has such a calming effect, that your confidence is boosted and you will feel relaxed.

So awesome and almost magical!


Tracy Behr

A homeschooling mother of two, breastfeeding helper, and lover of all things natural!

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