The top 5 benefits of skin to skin

Photography: Ange Gallo

A 2015 study published in the journal Pediatrics[1] confirmed that for preterm newborns, skin-to-skin contact can help to lower the risk of sepsis, a blood infection, and boost babies’ odds of survival by improving vital signs.

The top benefits are considered to be:

  • Can help baby adapt to the outside world
  • Can boost mental development
  • Can promote healthy weight
  • Can help to reduce baby’s stress
  • Can help baby sleep

The science of skin on skin
Dr Susan Ludington explains; “Skin to skin contact means placing the newborn baby who is wearing only a nappy up against his mother’s chest so they are skin to skin, between her breasts, and between her sternum and her belly button. In this position, the baby’s presence can stimulate a special set of nerves that are only there for the first six weeks of life. They are called c afferent nerves, and they immediately go to the baby’s brain and the mother’s brain to create phenomenally wonderful changes in their bodies.

Once the stimulation gets to the brain, it releases a hormone that goes to 14 different places in the baby’s brain and in the mother’s brain. The stimulation that goes to the brainstem controls the baby’s physiology of heart rate, his breathing rate, how much oxygen he’s got in his blood, how much oxygen gets to his brain, the baby’s temperature and the overall well-being of his body.

When our mothers and babies are together, mothers regulate their babies’ biology and in turn, the baby regulates the mother’s biology, making sure she is able to take care of the baby and recovers from the birth optimally.”

How you can use skin on skin
Babies can benefit from skin-to-skin care in the days, weeks, and even months following birth. In fact, it is often recommended that it be practiced up to 3 months old for full-term babies and 6 months old for premature babies[2].

How to do skin on skin in your own home:
There are just three basic steps to practicing skin on skin:

  1. Place baby (in its nappy) on the mother’s bare chest so that they are nestled chest to chest
  2. Position baby’s face to the side to clear the baby’s airway
  3. Allow baby to stay snuggled for the recommended period of time

How long to do skin to skin?
After childbirth, there is varying advice on this topic, ranging from the first hour after birth (WHO) to the first breastfeeding (American Academy of Pediatrics).

Who can do it?
Skin to skin can be performed by both parents – and other family members – which can help to improve attachment and bonding. The mother has a more unique ability to control the baby’s temperature.

Dr Susan Ludington has been studying skin to skin since 1988, conducting the first research study of the method in the United States. Dr Ludington is currently the Margaret Davis Walters Endowed Chair of Pediatric Nursing at Case Western Reserve University’s Bolton School of Nursing in Cleveland, Ohio.  She has been a maternal-neonatal nurse since 1972 and a certified midwife since 1979.

Further reading on skin on skin:

The psychobiology of emotion: the role of the oxytocinergic system, Uvanas-Moberg K, Arn I, Magnusson D. 2005

Evidence-Based Review of Physiologic Effects of Kangaroo Care, 2011, Susan M. Ludington-Hoe, 2011

Heart Rate Variability Responses of a Preterm Infant to Kangaroo Care, Gail C. McCain, Susan M. Ludington-Hoe, Joan Y. Swinth, Anthony J. 2007 Hadeed

Neurophysiologic assessment of neonatal sleep organization: preliminary results of a randomized, controlled trial of skin contact with preterm infants. Ludington-Hoe SM, Johnson MW, Morgan K, Lewis T, Gutman J, Wilson PD, Scher MS. 2006

WHO Guidelines

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