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How Skin-to-Skin Contact Benefits Newborn Babies

When you’re creating your birth plan, you should consider adding a clause that states you want skin-to-skin contact with your newborn baby. The benefits of skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth are numerous, and more hospitals are accommodating this wish.

Skin-to-skin contact (which is also called “kangaroo care” or “kangaroo mother care”) doesn’t just benefit premature babies. It’s beneficial for full-term infants too. A multitude of research studies have looked the benefits of placing a newborn on his or her mother’s skin immediately after birth.

Why Skin-to-Skin Contact Immediately After Birth?

The World Health Organization reports that skin-to-skin contact between a mother and her newborn baby immediately after delivery reduces crying, improves mother to infant interaction, keeps baby warm, and allows mothers to breastfeed more successfully.

When a naked baby (not swaddled in a blanket) is allowed to nestle against mom’s bare chest, her temperature, heart rate, and breathing rate are more stable and more normalized. These babies also have lower levels of stress hormones, so they are happier. In addition, skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth exposes the newborn baby to the normal bacteria on mom’s skin, which may prevent the baby from getting sick.

The benefits of skin-to-skin contact last beyond the first hour after birth. The longer that a mother and her newborn baby are skin-to-skin in the hours and days following delivery, the greater the baby benefits. You’ll also have a less cranky baby.

Another reason why you should consider skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth – it’s easier for you to bond with your baby. In addition, research has shown that women who hold their baby skin-to-skin have more confidence in their parenting skills, and they usually recognize and respond to their infant’s needs sooner than mother show are separated from baby following delivery.

Breastfeeding is Easier with Skin-to-Skin Contact

Immediate skin-to-skin contact after birth makes it easier for moms to breastfeed. Newborn babies who are placed on their mother’s skin have a natural instinct to attach (latch on) to the breast and start nursing, typically within one hour of being born. These newborns typically latch on well, especially if their mother had a natural birth without the help of pain medication. (When a baby latches on properly, breastfeeding is more comfortable for the mother.)

There’s a benefit for moms too. Mothers who hold their infants skin-to-skin after birth also produce more breast milk. In the long run, these mothers breastfeed longer and nurse without having to supplement with formula.

To improve your baby’s chance of breastfeeding within the first hour of birth, you should request immediate skin-to-skin contact and ask to delay routine interventions – such as the newborn bath, foot printing, eye treatments, and vitamin K shot. (This tip is for stable, healthy babies. Your healthcare provider knows best for infants who require medical help.)

If breastfeeding must be delayed due to a medical condition, ask for your baby to be placed skin-to-skin as soon as he or she is stable. Allow your baby to nurse until he or she is content.

“Kangaroo Care” Helps Premature Babies to Survive

Have you heard the term “kangaroo care?” This is another way of saying “skin to skin” contact. Kangaroo care is the practice of placing a premature baby between his or her mother’s breasts with a blanket covering the baby’s back. More neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) in the United States are allowing this practice.

According to a report from the University of Michigan Health System, around 82 percent of neonatal intensive care units in the United States use kangaroo care. In the early 1990s, the statistic was les than 70 percent.

Kangaroo care first originated in Columbia in the late 1970s. At that time, the Columbian death rate for premature infants was 70 percent. Doctors found that the babies who were held close to their mother’s body for most of the day survived and thrived.

Kangaroo care, or skin-on-skin contact between mother and baby, is effective in premature infants because it helps stabilize preemie’s heart rate, temperature and breathing. (Premature babies often have trouble coordinating their heart rate and breathing rate.)

Studies have found that premature babies who have skin-to-skin contact with their mothers sleep for longer periods of time, don’t cry as much, are more alert for longer, gain more weight, and are released from the hospital sooner.

Do you need another reason to use kangaroo care, or skin-to-skin contact?

Kangaroo Care Saves One Premature Baby’s Life

There was an interesting news story in late 2010 that proves how miraculous a mother’s touch is to a premature baby. In Australia, Kate Ogg was told that her premature baby, Jamie, had died shortly after birth.

Kate, who was pregnant with twins, went into labor at 27 weeks pregnant. One of the twins, a girl, survived, but her twin son was pronounced dead after doctors spent 20 minutes trying to get him to breathe. The nurse placed Jamie against Kate’s naked chest, so that she could say goodbye to her son.

Five minutes after being placed on Kate’s chest, her premature baby made short, startled movements. The doctors said any movements were just reflex; their son had passed away. As Jamie continued to lie on his mother’s chest, his movements got stronger and stronger. Soon, he started to grab his mom’s finger. Kate put some breast milk on her finger and gave it to Jamie. He took it eagerly. Two hours later, he opened his eyes.

Jamie has fully recovered, and in August 2010, when the story broke, he was a healthy five months old.  It just proves how remarkable Kangaroo Care truly is!

Watch the amazing video:

About the author: DP Nguyen is founder and editor of Hip Chick’s Guide to PMS, Pregnancy and Babies. She’s an expert pregnancy and women’s health blogger. She is NOT a medical doctor and does NOT offer medical advice. Connect with her on Google+, Twitter and Facebook.

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    and after my son was born he got skin-to-skin contact right away

  • Gillian Mulligan-Kohn March 11, 2011, 5:05 pm

    I enjoyed reading this post! Not to mention, I totally agree with the concept of skin-to-skin, and I’m happy to have a bit more information regarding its positive effects. I look forward to more…

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    Baby Talk without the Babble

    • DP March 11, 2011, 5:15 pm

      Thanks! I will definitely write a follow up post with more information. I think skin to skin contact extends beyond the newborn baby phase too. I wrote a post about baby massage, which will be published tomorrow :)

    • DP March 11, 2011, 5:15 pm

      Thanks! I will definitely write a follow up post with more information. I think skin to skin contact extends beyond the newborn baby phase too. I wrote a post about baby massage, which will be published tomorrow :)

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