Benefits of skin-to-skin contact after birth
The simple act of snuggling your baby on your bare chest has powerful benefits. The first hour after birth, also known as the sacred hour, is a special bonding time with your baby. When a mother holds her baby skin-to-skin after birth it initiates a strong instinctive behaviour in both mum and baby, and mum will begin to experience a surge of maternal hormones.
Here are the leading benefits of skin-to-skin contact:
- Stabilises body temperature – During pregnancy a mother maintains her body’s temperature by sweating when hot and shivering and moving around when cold. When babies are born they have yet to acquire the same ability, so they can’t adjust their body temperature accordingly. Research shows that skin-to-skin contact with mother is better than any artificial warmer.
- Initiation of breastfeeding – Newborns instinctively have a heightened sense of smell, so placing your baby skin-to-skin helps her seek out the nipple and begin breastfeeding.
- Transfer of good bacteria – Babies get exposed to their mother’s bacteria through skin-to-skin contact after birth, early exposure helps babies develop a range of healthy bacteria. Skin-to-skin contact also supports early breastfeeding. Some of the complex sugars in human milk are indigestible in the newborn, but are the perfect food for a subspecies of bacteria that coat intestinal walls, boost digestive function, and provide protection from harmful bacteria (pathogens).
- Improvement in heart and lung function – Babies go through a dramatic transition after birth as they prepare to take their first breaths of air outside the uterus. Those held skin-to-skin by their mothers tend to adapt sooner than those who are not. They also tend to have heart and breathing rates that are both more normal and more stable. This benefit holds true with premature infants as well as those born full-term.
- Regulations of blood sugar – Babies use blood sugar for energy. Before birth, they get glucose through the placenta; after birth, they get it from their mother’s milk.
- Reduction in crying – Studies show that babies who are held with skin-to-skin contact, particularly by their mother, are apt to cry less than those separated from their mothers. It seems understandable that a baby is less likely to cry when they feel the protection and security provided by their mother.
- Enhancement of mom-baby connection – Having skin-to-skin contact will help the mother and baby connect and learn her baby’s signal for signs of hunger, signs of illness, signs of discomfort and so on.
- Easier transition from the womb – Your chest is the best place for your baby to adjust to life in the outside world. Compared with babies who are swaddled or kept in a crib, skin-to-skin babies stay warmer and calmer, cry less, and have healthier blood sugar levels.
- Soothes mother – Giving birth is an experience that comes with a flood of intense emotions and hormones. Whether your birth is more positive and calm or chaotic physical contact with your baby can soothe your baby and provides the perfect opportunity for bonding and relaxation.
- Encourages breast milk production – Having a baby on the mother’s chest encourages increased release of the hormone oxytocin in the mother, which stimulates breast milk production and stronger uterine contractions. These contractions are needed to deliver the placenta and shrink the uterus back down to normal size.
Besides helping to create a lasting bond between you and your little one, the practice can also help your baby transition from the womb to the outside world, improve your post-birth recovery, and even make breastfeeding easier.
So, make sure you talk with your partner and include skin-to-skin in your birth plan. Clearly explain your goals with the birthing staff to prioritise skin-to-skin after birth.