Breastfeeding Basics: What’s the deal with Skin to Skin?

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What does your OB provider, friends, and parenting magazines mean when they say you should do skin to skin with your baby?  What is this new catch phrase and how can it affect you and your baby after birth?  How can skin-to-skin contact enhance your birth and your baby’s well being?

What is skin to skin contact?

Skin to skin contact means having your baby undressed down to a diaper or naked and placed in your arms, against your bare chest.  It is often done after birth but can also be done during the many weeks that follow.  This helps babies transition from the fetal to newborn life much smoother. 

How does skin to skin contact help my baby?

Your body acts as a habitat, in that you provide warmth, nutrition, protection and support for optimal oxygenation.  Practicing skin to skin contact provides this habitat and increases the sense of security in newborns. Babies can regulate their body temperatures as they are against you because your body uses hormones to heat up and warm your baby. Your baby benefits by stabilizing his or her blood sugars, heart rate, breathing, and blood pressures during this time.   It can also decrease stress in your newborn and lead to less crying.

How does skin to skin contact help me and my partner?

Mothers experience an increase in oxytocin, or the love hormone, during skin to skin, leading to increased bonding.  Your significant other can also do skin to skin with your baby, especially if you are unable to due to pain or fatigue.  Skin to skin contact greatly enhances bonding between your baby and those who practice it.

Babies born prematurely benefit even more!

Skin to skin contact can also greatly help a premature baby. Although most of these babies need to be stabilized first, they are often better able to breathe and adjust metabolically if they are kept skin to skin as much as possible after birth.  Skin to skin also helps babies brain development and establish feelings of security, despite all the interventions that take place when a baby is born early.   In areas where some critical tools are unavailable during a birth, such as incubators, a mother can not only warm her early baby with skin to skin contact, but can also cool her baby down.  This amazing phenomenon can mean life or death for some premature infants.

What are other benefits of skin to skin contact?

Doing skin to skin contact immediately after your baby is born can help your baby be colonized by the same bacteria as you, which will help your baby’s immune system.  While delivering vaginally definitely increases this colonization, delivering caesarian can also achieve similar benefits if baby is placed skin to skin while you are still on the operating table.  As long as baby is stable, request all interventions, such as a bath and shots, to wait until after you’ve had your hour or so of skin to skin contact and bonding.

How is breastfeeding helped by skin to skin contact?

Breastfeeding is greatly enhanced by cuddling your baby skin to skin.   Babies who are kept skin to skin for at least 1 hour immediately after birth have better success with latching and breastfeeding vigorously.  Human babies, as mammals, are instinctively ready to crawl up to the mother’s breast and latch. However, as births have become more medically based, birth interventions can greatly affect the first breastfeed. Researchers have found, there are distinctive stages a newborn ventures through after birth, including, birth cry, relaxation, awakening, crawling, sucking, and sleeping. These stages, along with familiarizing with the new environment, can take 1-2 hours. Postponing interventions (weighing the baby, shots, bath, etc) and utilizing skin to skin contact during this time will greatly benefit your baby and breastfeeding.   Even if your baby is not stable immediately and needs a little help with breathing, requesting baby to be skin to skin as soon as he or she is stable can still provide great benefits, despite these initial interruptions.

As expectant parents await the arrival of their new little one, consider the natural concept of skin to skin contact after birth. Birthing is coming back around full circle to be more natural and full of fewer interventions.  Skin to skin contact is one of the easiest, most natural, and enjoyable things you can do, no matter how your >delivery turns out.


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