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.

When Should Your Infant Be Bathed for the First Time?

If you’re a new or expecting parent, you may have heard the term “wait to bathe” for the first bath of your infant after birth. What does that mean, exactly?

When babies are born, they are covered with a white substance called vernix.

This substance, made up of cells from your baby, have antibacterial proteins to protect your baby from bacterial infections during the birth process and post-birth. It also protects the baby’s skin and moisturizes it. It is very beneficial for the vernix to remain on the baby for a period of time post-birth.

Hospitals that have instituted a “wait to bathe” protocol typically have staff wait between 6-24 hours, depending on the hospital’s protocol, before bathing your infant.

Here is a good run-down of the benefits of waiting to bathe from Children’s MD, a website from Children’s Hospital of St. Louis, Missouri.

In a nutshell, waiting to bathe helps prevent infections, and helps babies regulate their body temperature, their blood sugar and bond with their mother.

If you are interested in waiting to have your infant bathed and the hospital you are delivering at does not have a “wait to bathe” protocol in place, you can always ask to have your baby’s first bath delayed.