The magical effects of skin-to-skin between a parent and their baby
What do we mean by skin-to-skin?
For a newborn, what we mean is contact between a naked baby and their bare-chested parent for maximum contact between their bodies. As the days and months go by, the practice of keeping the baby close, even if lightly dressed, with its cheek hands against the parent's torso, will also be considered skin-to-skin.
Its benefits are numerous and largely recognized. The more frequent its practice is, the greater its effects will be and will be felt on a longer time span. Skin-to-skin is recommended from the moment the baby is born and throughout its first year.
These days, most institutions where babies are delivered promote and recommend skin-to-skin from the moment of the baby's birth and first hour. They will go as far as delaying non-urgent care like weighting and cleaning the baby so as to not separate the baby from its mother. Should the mother be in need of an intervention and not be able to have her baby skin-to-skin, the father or another close relative can be asked to care for the baby. The point of spending time in skin-to-skin with the baby in its first hour is to let the mother familiarize herself with her baby, observe it and diminish her stress and the baby's, and learn to recognize its need to be fed. This will also allow her to more easily recuperate from giving birth and ease her into breastfeeding her baby. For the baby, skin-to-skin allows for a smoother transition into life after birth and helps to calm down after the stress of being born, an intense, complex, and possibly very long moment.
Having the baby practice skin-to-skin with a parent will bring him several benefits. Maintaining his body temperature, a good heart rate, a good blood glucose level (sugar level) and a good oxygen level will all be helped by skin-to-skin. The fundamental reflex of crawling to one of his mother's areolas to feed himself will also be supported by this precious contact and can even improve the milk supply.
A very important fact needs to be underlined: the many research projects, studies, and testimonies all confirm that skin-to-skin during the baby's first hour and the following days, weeks, months, and years, drastically reduce the baby's cries. Not only do the baby's cries disappear almost completely during the first hour but also throughout the first year during each skin-to-skin session. It's even recognized that a child who has benefitted from long and frequent skin-to-skin contact will experience less anxiety all the way into adulthood.
The baby has a physiological need to be in contact with his mother but skin-to-skin can also be done with his father. Studies have shown that a newborn not only stays warm, but also is kept in constant skin-to-skin is much less stressed, and cries less often than one left in his crib, bed, or simply away from his parent's body.
Holding your baby in a skin-to-skin manner also helps in the brain development and full-term development of the baby's immune system due to the time he spends against his mother's skin where bacteria might be present. Breastfeeding is also facilitated by the production of oxytocin, which promotes the free flow of breast milk. This mother-and-baby moment will help increase her confidence in her maternal skills and instincts. Skin-to-skin will also strengthen the mother-child bond and benefit the father-child bond, as it will diminish his stress hormone by promoting his self-confidence as a father.
How should skin-to-skin be done?
The basic principle is simple but a few tips can ensure a safe use of the technique. During the first few hours, both bodies should be bare-chested to guarantee a maximum of contact. By placing the baby with his head slightly to the side, his cheek against his mother between and above his mother's breasts and his knees raised and legs opened in a crouching position, the entire inside of the baby's legs, his stomach, his arms folded and his hands near his head can make the best possible contact with his parent's. All that's left to do is to verify is that his airways stay clear by keeping his face, nose and mouth visible. Ideally, the parent should remain in a half-leaning position with the baby leaning flat against their chest.
It's obviously difficult for parents to spend several hours per day lying down with their baby on them. It's highly recommended to do it as much as possible during the baby's first 6 days and to switch between parents and other family members so as to reach 2 hours per day. Later on, it's through babywearing that skin-to-skin will continue, this time with the freedom to do their chores, move about and generally enjoy more freedom of movement.
Babywearing constitutes the next step in skin-to-skin care and should be done as often as possible, as it will allow parents and their child to benefit from its advantages. To carry your child, we recommend the use of a baby wrap so as as to be able to care for your child while keeping your arms free.
To learn more about the benefits of babywearing, we recommend you read our article on the topic https://chimparoo.ca/en/blogs/portage-des-enfants/7-bienfaits-du-portage-pour-une-bonne-sante-et-une-vie-adoucie-avec-bebe and watch our video collaboration with Janie Vachon, founder of Porter la vie and co-founder of the INPE Janie Vachon https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ucarTGouZTE (in French). I've also prepared a condensed video on the benefits of babywearing. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0tl3IQ3CgHo .
To be in contact with your baby as much as possible throughout your day will diminish his cries, the studies and testimonies proove it. A baby doesn't need to express distress when his need for contact is fulfilled, feels comfortable and happy!
The benefits of skin-to-skin:
- Gentler transition to post-partum life
- Regulation of the baby's body temperature
- Promotes breastfeeding
- Rise in secretion of oxytocin
- Strenghtening of the baby's immune system
- Less crying
- Less anxiety and stress even as an adult
- Creation of mother-child and father-child bond
- Greater parental confidence
- 1 hour at birth
- 2 hours per day during the first 6 days
- 1 hour a day / every 24 hours during the first year
- Both bodies naked during the first days and as often as possible, then very lightly dress later on.
- In a half-sitting position if possible, if not then in babywearing with as little movement as possible.
By Christine Duhaime, January 5, 2023