The importance of skin to skin

Skin to skin contact for newborn babies is one of life’s little acts of magic; an act that can provide a wealth of health and emotional benefits, and an act that can literally induce happiness. Research has shown that skin to skin contact immediately after birth and in the days, weeks and months afterwards can have a huge impact on baby’s heart rate and well-being, and in strengthening the bond between baby and parent. Read on for more about the importance of skin to skin.

What is skin to skin and how is it done?

Skin to skin is just that- your baby’s skin next to yours, with no blankets and no clothes in between you. This takes place straight after birth (or as soon as is possible, depending on the circumstances) and studies have found that it helps to:

● stabilise baby’s temperature
● stabilise baby’s heart rate and breathing
● allow baby to colonise mother’s bacteria (immediately after birth) which is essential for the prevention of allergies
● form a bond between baby and parent
● reduce stress levels of baby and parent
● aid and facilitate breastfeeding

For premature babies, the effects of skin to skin contact with a parent can be astounding. It’s sometimes referred to as Kangaroo Care and is often carried out for prolonged periods of time in the special care units at hospital. These premature babies are able to regulate their temperatures just as well as they would inside an incubator. Other benefits include:

● better sleep, which aids growth and preserves energy
● less stress for babies when undergoing special care treatments
● better weight gain
● fewer illnesses and infections
● earlier discharge from special care
● more chance of long term breastfeeding success

For parents of premature babies, being able to hold them and to contribute towards their recuperation is wonderful; often special care units can be daunting for many and this is one way in which parents can take back a little of the parenting that may be denied to them whilst their baby is too small to come home.

Speak to your medical team about skin to skin, and if you write a birth plan make sure you state that you would like skin to skin contact as soon as possible after birth. The following is recommended:

● Ask for baby to be placed directly onto your chest (or your partner’s, if you are unable) immediately after birth.
● Ensure that baby’s head is turned to the side and airways are open.
● Hold baby close for as long as possible, up to an hour or more.

Some studies have found that skin to skin contact for up to two hours after birth, is the optimum length of time, so if you can request that checks are carried out after this it could be worth doing. In the days following birth, and indeed the weeks and months following birth too, skin to skin remains an important and essential tool for you and your baby. Experts agree that if you’re able to spend at least an hour with your baby against your skin (and baby stripped down to her nappy) it can continue to work it’s magic. At least an hour is recommended so that baby can go through a natural sleep cycle whilst you are holding her. This helps her biological system to stabilise.

If your baby is delivered via a c-section, you can still request skin to skin contact. Some hospitals will ask you to wait until you are in recovery but do ask, as some surgeons are happy to deliver baby straight to your chest if all is well. If you’re unable to hold baby straight away, your partner can have skin to skin instead. Studies have shown that paternal heart rhythms are just as effective in stabilising baby’s own heart rate, and what better way for daddy to get know his new baby?

As your baby gets older, the way that you carry out skin to skin sessions can change and you will notice that she won’t always sleep on you as she once did. Some mothers (and indeed fathers) take the opportunity to have a bath with their baby, and enjoy skin to skin in this way too. You’ll find lots of ways to get the most of this precious time with your baby!

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