For the first few hours after a baby is born, it experiences the world through the sensation of touch. While it may not be able to understand loving words, a loving touch can imprint the feeling of security, and love. Essentially, it is the job of both, the father and the mother, to maintain a healthy skin-to-skin contact with their baby.
What is Skin-to-Skin Contact With a Baby?
Skin-to-skin contact in its originality is when a baby is given to its mother after birth. The baby is cleaned and dried and then left on the mother’s chest, without any clothes between them, with only a blanket covering them. They are left this way until the baby requires its first feeding.
The act was first introduced in South America because the hospitals didn’t have enough incubators for every baby. Instead, the babies were left on their mother’s warm chest, so they wouldn’t lose their body heat. This act is now called Kangaroo Care and is popular in many parts of the world.
In general terms, any time you hold the baby, you are maintaining skin-to-skin contact.
Skin-to-skin contact is also very important in neonatal care units (NICU). A Neonatal Intensive Care Unit is a specialized ICU designed for the care and protection of ill and premature newborn babies. The term neonatal refers to the first 28 days after the birth of a baby.
However, skin-to-skin contact isn’t limited to newborns only. A baby can require skin-to-skin contact anytime it needs comforting. Not only this but there are benefits of skin-to-skin contact for mothers as well.
Why Is Skin-to-Skin Contact Important?
It Lets the Baby Adapt to Life After Birth
There are a lot of benefits of skin-to-skin contact for a baby. The most important thing this does is let the baby adapt to life outside the womb. It regulates the baby’s heart rate and blood pressure. Skin-to-skin contact also assimilates the baby’s body temperature to that of the mother thereby allowing for a smooth “life after birth”.
It is important to control the baby’s temperature as the baby isn’t used to thermoregulation. This means it cannot perform acts like shivering to preserve body heat. Healthy skin contact will help in preserving body heat.
It Promotes Feeding
When a mother first holds her child, she experiences a release of hormones. These make the mother smell, and this smell encourages the baby to feed. This is because its digestive system is stimulated. However, this process should always be uninterrupted. This smell is quite important because it gives the young baby a distinctive feeling about his mother, and it is also one reason why babies stop crying when the mothers hold them.
The baby usually relaxes into the breast, where a mother rubs, strokes, and pats him. This will encourage the baby to make small movements. Babies after this stage usually move towards the breast, where they familiarize themselves with their mother. This may take some time, however, patience is key. Rushing the baby may put it off feeding. This is why skin-to-skin contact is important for mothers.
Babies that are provided skin-to-skin contact feed earlier than other babies. Once they have a first uninterrupted feed, babies cause fewer problems in future feedings. This means they gain weight quickly. This act also increases the production of prolactin in the mother’s body which further increases milk production.
Once the baby starts to feed by itself and has gotten used to the act, it will copy the process in future feedings. This will lead to fewer breastfeeding problems.
The babies also gain faster, because they don’t have to spend energy to regulate body temperature. This energy goes towards growth instead. Thus, another benefit of skin-to-skin contact is a rapid increase in weight and overall improvement in the health of the baby.
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Improved Health and Mood
A baby cries when it is in pain. Research shows that skin-to-skin contact not only reduces pain but also helps in lowering the stress levels in babies during procedures. Research has also proven that skin contact reduces pain more than sugar solution, which is given to children and babies as a pain medication.
This improves their health and reduces crying. Another benefit of skin-to-skin contact is that it stabilizes the baby’s breathing and heart rate. A study proved that children who are given kangaroo care have reduced breathing problems and heart episodes.
Oxytocin is a cuddle hormone. The production of oxytocin in the body helps the newborn feel more comfortable by stimulating the parasympathetic system.
Gives Babies a Better Immune System
This happens by the transfer of good bacteria from the mother’s skin to the baby. These bacteria are also transferred to the baby’s gut from the mother’s vaginal walls, which is why skin-to-skin contact is even more important for babies born through C-section and not via normal deliveries.
Bacteria on the skin and in the vagina are different, so the baby gets accustomed to a lot of different bacteria. This will prove beneficial in the future, as the baby will have produced a variety of antibodies. As such, skin-to-skin contact becomes important for the future strength of the baby.
Helps Increase Baby’s Blood Glucose Levels
Before birth, a baby absorbs the glucose it needs for respiration, through the placenta. After birth, however, it takes its glucose through the mother’s milk. If the energy a baby needs to stay warm is more than what it gets through breast milk, it will always have lower sugar in its blood.
This is more frequent for children whose mothers have diabetes during the pregnancy because they have a very high concentration of insulin in their blood. In the mother, the insulin keeps the blood sugar normal, but in the fetus, the insulin reduces blood sugar below normal levels. This is what makes skin-to-skin contact very important for the baby.
Skin-to-Skin Contact Helps Promote Mental Growth
When a baby feels safe, the brain starts to develop. If the baby doesn’t have this positive input, brain development can be stunted. Researchers say babies develop better because of a better heart rate, blood pressure, and blood oxygen levels.
The effects of stunted brain growth are felt later on in life. These children have problems in their educational life, their careers, and even social interactions. Therefore, it is important to give your best to the baby when it is young. The more positively engaged you are with the child, the better would be its mental growth and improvement in brain abilities. Skin-to-skin contact is one of the most effective ways to do so.
Skin-to-Skin Contact Helps Promote Mother-Child Bonding
When a baby feels skin contact with the mother, it opens its eyes. This helps it respond to its mother’s voice, and feel a sense of familiarity with her. For the mother, this touch helps establish motherly instincts and helps her bond with the child. The emotional bond created between a mother and a child is further strengthened mainly with skin-to-skin contact.
This period also allows the mother to understand her child’s needs. The pattern of its sleep, signs of discomfort, and any signs of illness. Over time, mothers are even able to differentiate between the sounds of their baby crying. This helps mothers build more confidence in the relationship and fit into their roles as a mother.
Research proves that this feeling of motherhood lays the foundation for effective communication in the future.
Helps the Mother Avoid Postpartum Depression
A lot of mothers experience postpartum depression during the first 2 years after their baby’s birth. According to few studies, if there is skin-to-skin contact after birth, it can improve the mother’s mental health significantly and help her come out of the depressive phase. This is because the act nurtures a strong feeling of confidence and love between the pair.
According to doctors, when you hold your baby to your skin, your body produces oxytocin. Oxytocin in your blood reduces stress and blood pressure. This helps the mother calm down.
Skin-to-skin contact is very important for both mother and child. While a mother holds more importance, having skin contact with a father can help a child’s development as well. If your baby is in the NICU, we recommend you establish skin-to-skin contact between mother and child, as soon as possible. You can hold the baby to your skin for about 1 hour every day, for up to a few months after birth. This will prove highly beneficial in the long run.
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