What is skin-to-skin contact?

Skin-to-skin contact is when a naked baby is placed tummy-down on the mother’s (or father’s) bare chest. When this is done immediately after the baby is born, there are many benefits for both mother/father and baby. Mom’s bare chest is the perfect place for a new baby to recover from the stress of being born. It is a warm, comforting and peaceful place to begin life in the outside world. Unless there’s a need for immediate medical intervention, the majority of babies should be able to rest on their mother’s chest for at least an hour after their birth.

Though simple, this practice has so many proven benefits that it is recommended by the World Health Organisation[1], the American Academy of Paediatrics [2] and the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine. [3] 

These studies show that mothers and babies should be together, skin-to-skin (baby naked, not wrapped in a blanket) immediately after birth, as well as later. The baby is happier, the baby’s temperature is more stable and normal, the baby’s heart and breathing rates are more stable and normal and the baby’s blood sugar level is more elevated. 

Not only that but skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth allows the baby to be colonised by the same bacteria as the mother. This, together with breastfeeding, is thought to be important in the prevention of allergic diseases. When a baby is placed into an incubator, his skin and gut are often colonized by bacteria that differ from the mother’s.

Genesis Maternity Clinic promotes skin-to-skin contact immediately after the birth and partners are encouraged to continue skin-to-skin contact with their new-borns while the mother is being attended to by the midwife after birthing the placenta. 

 

Benefits of skin-to-skin care: 

 

For the Mother:

Skin-to-skin will help the mother learn baby's cues and increase the level of prolactin produced - prolactin is the hormone responsible for helping the body to produce milk. Many mothers find that latching their babies is easier when they are held skin-to-skin. Skin-to-skin contact also calms a fussy baby and helps the mother’s body to produce more milk. [4]

The benefits for the mother are: 

  • Baby cries 10 times less and for shorter periods than infants in cribs
  • Increased maternal affectionate/nurturing behaviour 
  • Enhances effective breastfeeding
  • Sleep is synchronised with the new-born

For the Newborn:

Skin-to-skin helps regulate the baby's temperature, breathing, heart rate and sugar levels. It also calms the baby so he or she does not get stressed or cry excessively. It is easier for many babies to latch on to the breast when held skin-to-skin and it is beneficial for both full term and premature babies. [4]

The benefits for baby are: 

  • Apnoea reduction
  • Less initial weight loss
  • Positively influences state organisation (moving from sleep to awake and back) and motor system modulation (smoothness of movement)
  • More restful natural sleep cycles and more quiet sleep
  • Reduced stress reaction to painful procedures.

Skin-to-skin is not just for birth

Carry on cuddling baby skin-to-skin after you leave Genesis Clinic. Your baby will stay warm and comfortable on your chest and the benefits of bonding, soothing and breastfeeding are likely to continue. 

If your baby is sleepy, skin-to-skin contact can help keep your baby interested in breastfeeding. Fathers and mothers who hold babies skin-to-skin help keep them calm and cosy. Babies are comforted by skin-to-skin contact during procedures. 

Fathers and mothers who hold babies skin-to-skin are also thought to have increased confidence and are more relaxed. [5]

Skin-to-skin immediately after the birth:

The power of first impressions is well known. None may be more significant than the first experiences of a new-born baby exiting mother's womb. Our first impression of life outside the womb and the welcome reception we receive immediately after birth may colour our perceptions of life as being difficult or easy, hostile or safe, painful or comforting, frightening or reassuring, cold and lonely or warm and welcoming. 

The events surrounding birth have the potential to set the stage for patterns of subconscious thought processes and behaviours that persist for a lifetime. Because the first hour after birth is so momentous, it is named "The Golden Hour". 

Every culture has occasions and ceremonies it holds sacred that are honoured, cherished and protected. In most cultures, for example, a wedding ceremony is considered a sacred occasion. 

Birth is an equally sacred event. It is a time when a new member of the family arrives, is greeted for the first time and welcomed by his or her parents. Yet, in many hospital settings, this once-in-a-lifetime process is routinely interrupted for details that can easily wait until after the new baby has had time to adjust to life outside the womb in the loving arms of the mother and after the baby and parents have had time to meet each other as a new family.

Skin-to-skin contact improves physiologic stability for both mother and baby in the vulnerable period immediately after birth. It also increases maternal attachment behaviours, protects against the negative effects of maternal–infant separation, supports optimal infant brain development, and promotes initiation of the first breast feeding resulting in increased breastfeeding initiation and duration rates.

The first hours after birth are a developmentally distinct time for a baby and there are well documented short and long term physical and psychological advantages when a baby is held skin- to-skin during this time.

  • Babies are warmer.
  • Babies are calmer.
  • Babies can hear their mother’s heartbeat.
  • Heart and breathing rates are normalised.
  • The release of hormones is stimulated to support breastfeeding and mothering
  • Other family members can hold and bond with babies through skin-to-skin holding too
  • Allows colonisation of baby’s skin with mother’s-friendly bacteria - providing protection against infection
  • Baby's digestion is stimulated

Research Based Evidence for Skin-to-Skin:

1. World Health Organisation, Handbook for Guideline Development. Geneva, WHO, 2012.

2. American Academy of Paediatrics, Hospital Breastfeeding Policy for Newborns, 2006.

3. The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine Protocol Committee, ABM Clinical Protocol #7: Model Breastfeeding Policy (Revision 2010).

4. International Childbirth Association,  ICEA Position Paper, 10/2015.

5. Benefits Of Skin Contact - Review, Anderson 2003, Rojas 2003.

6. World Health Organisation, Handbook for Guideline Development. Geneva, WHO, 2012.