The Importance of Skin-to-Skin Contact

Commonly, after the birth of a newborn, the infant is put on her mother’s chest, called skin-to-skin, or kangaroo care. The baby is naked except for a  diaper, and put tummy down on the mother’s bare chest,  with the baby’s  head  turned to the side, neck straight and nose and mouth uncovered  A blanket covers the two of them.

This practice became very important in Brazil in the 1970s, when they had a very high rate of death of premature infants. However, the medical staff noticed infants who  were held by parents much of the day fared much better than their peers. It was the Brazilians who coined the phrase kangaroo care.

The practice has now become a common recommendation, for all babies, preterm or fullterm.

So how does it  benefit the babies?

Researchers have found that skin-to-skin contact:

  • normalizes the baby’s body temperature (in fact the mother’s temp rises to warm a cold baby and drops to cool an overwarm baby)
  • stabilizes the infant’s respiration and oxygenation
  • increases glucose levels, thus reducing the risk of hypoglycemia
  • regulates blood pressure
  • reduces stress hormones in mother and baby
  • decreases crying
  • encourages the baby into a quiet-alert state, which is optimal for successful feeding

And, for those of you who are breastfeeding, skin-to-skin contact has been shown to stimulate milk production in the  early days.  How?

Last post introduced the topic of the hormone oxytocin and the maternal

instinct (albeit the subject was worms but the same link between oxytocin and the maternal instinct exists in humans).

Oxytocin is also the hormone that stimulates milk let-down.  The baby sucking releases prolactin,  the hormone that regulates milk production. So skin-to-skin increases the release of oxytocin, the “love hormone”, both of which decrease stress, which encourages babies quiet-alert state,  which improves baby’s ability to breastfeed, which encourages the release of prolactin, which increases the mother’s milk supply.

Skin-to-skin contact with infants and fathers also produces many of the same benefits.

Just remember, whoever is holding the baby, skin-to-skin should be awake and make sure the baby’s head is turned to the side, with  the neck straight and nose and mouth uncovered.

Maternal Instinct and the Simple Worm

Caenorhabditis elegans
Photo by Society of Mucosal Immunology

Whoever thought research on worms could produce heart-warming news on the maternal instinct?

The maternal instinct is known to be a powerful force. Simply put, it is the desire in mothers to perpetuate their offsprings’ survival, sometimes even at a detriment to herself. It is driven by hormones, namely oxytocin, sometimes affectionately called the “love” hormone. Skin-to-skin contact is known to increase amounts of oxytocin in both mothers and children. The rise in oxytocin also has been proven to reduce anxiety.

So what does this have to do with worms? Are worms driven by anything but their own need to survive?

Yes, it turns out. Scientists in England have discovered, in the course of researching the simple worm, C.elegans, that the worms work to help their offspring to survive, even at their own sacrifice.

The worms feed on a bacteria, the same bacteria they lay their offspring in. Thus they are competing for the same food source as their offspring.

The researchers from England’s University of Southampton, working with the National Infection Service at Porton Down and KU Leuven in Belgium, discovered the worms recognize their offspring and develop a “food-leaving” strategy, designed to ensure the offspring get enough to eat.

The scientists made a connection between this behavior and the hormone nematocin, which is an ancient version of oxytocin. So, according to the researchers, our maternal instinct was derived from “the ancient organization of simple nervous systems such as those found in worms.”

Cool, right?

More to come on oxytocin next week…

In the middle of the night…

photo: bigstock

My first child was born 22 years ago, when basic cable was really, really basic. It was January, and those were some long, cold nights nursing her in the middle of the night, while I struggled to stay awake.

TV was my friend. Specifically AMC (American Movie Classics). It was either that or half-hour long infomercials. It turns out that in January 1995 AMC was running a marathon of versions of Doc Holliday and the Shootout at the OK Corral.

The first one was entertaining, the second wasn’t bad (sort of a different take on the story) but by the third film it was all getting very old.

photo: bigstock

New parents nowadays are in a much more enviable position. They have tons of options for middle-of-the-night binge watching while feeding or soothing baby. It’s an embarrassment of riches. How to choose?

I polled a handful of friends for suggestions. Only restriction — the shows should be soothing, or at least not disturbing. We want you to be able to get back to sleep ASAP. So Game of Thrones and Criminal Minds are not included in this list.

I’ve loosely categorized the shows to make this post easier to skim. As always with parenting, time is of the essence. This post would be way too long if I provided a summary for  each show so instead I’ve linked each one to Wikipedia.

Starting with my favorites: British shows.

British dramas are ideal for watching at any time, but especially appropriate for the wee hours of the morning. They are not action-packed, and have a slower pace than many American shows. Even the police procedurals are light on violence and noise.

The Crown

Doc Martin

The Bletchley Circle

Lark Rise to Candleford

The Night Manager

Foyle’s War

Agatha Raisin

Home Fires


Pride and Prejudice (definitely make sure it’s the 6-part BBC version with Colin Firth. You won’t regret it)

The Great British Bake Off

Next, Australian shows:

Similar to British shows in that they tend to be less action-packed than American shows, but also delightfully likeable. Also, Australians seem like people you want  to be friends with.


A Place to Call Home

Perennially fresh sit-coms:

There are some sit-coms that stand up to the test of time, are still funny and don’t even seem dated.




Gilmore Girls

The Office

30 Rock

Arrested Development



And more recent sit-coms:





Modern Family


Parks and Recreation

Silicon Valley



Odd Mom Out


Some really good dramas:





The NIght of

Friday Night Lights


Mozart in the Jungle

The Americans

The Get Down


Wolf Hall

And some difficult-to-categorize but really absorbing shows:

Shark Tank

The 1900 House

CNN Decades documentaries

My hope for all parents is undisturbed nights of rest. However, circumstances differ and many parents sometimes find themselves awake when it seems like no one else is. First of all, don’t despair — this too shall end. Second of all, you’re definitely not the only one awake — there are plenty of others in your temporary boat.

In the meantime, I hope some of  these shows will help the time go by.