The benefits of skin-to-skin contact for newborn babies
Skin-to-skin contact is where your baby, wearing just a nappy, is able to lie on your bare chest. You are both in skin-to-skin contact, perhaps with a blanket over your baby’s back. Babies are very content in this position and as they are still in their foetal position they look like little tree frogs snug on your chest. Studies of the effects of skin-to-skin contact have reported the following benefits:
- Mum and baby are both calm and relaxed
- Regulates the breathing and the heart rate in the baby
- Stimulates the baby’s digestive system
- Regulates the baby’s body temperature (without a hot cot or incubator)
- Allows mum’s ‘friendly’ bacteria to colonise the baby’s skin, which protects against ‘nasty’ germs
- Stimulates babies to root for the breast
- Stimulates the production of the ‘love’ hormone oxytocin in the mum, which promotes bonding and breastfeeding
- Helps stabilise premature babies so that they fight infection more effectively, develop better and are able to be discharged from special baby care sooner
Skin-to-skin contact after the birth stimulates babies to perform a series of behaviours, sometimes called the ‘breast crawl’ to the first breastfeed. Babies who are able to breast crawl to a breastfeed will usually be able to develop breastfeeding behaviour better.
Babies put into skin-to-skin contact on their mum’s chest go through a series of behaviours leading up to breastfeeding:
- A brief birth cry
- Lies on mum’s chest, relaxes and recovers after the birth
- Wakes up
- Begins gross motor movements of head, arms and legs
- Crawls towards the breast
- Rests at the breast
- Display feeding cues such as smelling, nuzzling and licking the breast
- Opens mouth wide and attaches to the breast
- Feeds at the breast
- Comes off the breast and falls asleep
Your birth plan and breastfeeding plan
If you are keen to breastfeed your baby and have had a straightforward vaginal birth and feel ready, it can really help breastfeeding get off to the best start if you allow your baby to go through these stages of behaviour on your chest. Include this in your birth plan and ask that this process isn’t interrupted by having the baby weighed or you having a shower as it will really allow your baby to latch on instinctively and breastfeed after the birth.
Dads and babies
Dads can often stay with their baby until the mum is discharged from the recovery room after her Caesarean section. Researchers studying the effect of skin-to-skin contact reported that a baby lying on their dad’s chest cried less and settled to sleep more quickly than babies alone in a cot.
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