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.

What Can I Take When I’m Pregnant or Breastfeeding?

Cornelis Bega (Dutch, 1631/1632 – 1664 ), The Mother, , etching, Gift of Arthur and Charlotte Vershbow

 

Most pregnant or breastfeeding mothers have had the occasion to want to take an OTC medication, be it for a bad cold, allergies or a myriad of other reasons. But, while you might have happily taken the medication earlier, being pregnant or breastfeeding probably gives you pause for thought, and rightly so. How much could this affect the baby, you wonder?

First and foremost, you should clear use of any medication with your OB or midwife and your pediatrician before taking it. This includes OTC drugs, vitamins, supplements, herbal medications and prescription medications. Many drugs are fine to take during pregnancy or breastfeeding, but you always want  to make sure your medical team knows  what you are taking.

Generally, you want to avoid anything with pseudoephedrine if you are breastfeeding because it can diminish your milk supply.

Additionally, for breastfeeding mothers, there is a resource prized by lactation consultants, Medications and Mothers Milk, by Thomas W. Hale, Ph.D, a clinical pharmacologist. It is an exhaustive compendium of medications and the effect on breastfeeding infants. Your medical team may very likely consult this source when you make a query about medications.

And remember, the general rule of thumb is be conservative. If you don’t need the medication, don’t  take it.