There is a growing body of evidence that skin to skin contact after the birth helps babies in many ways – indeed, it would be fair to say that being in skin contact is what nature intended for newborns! Skin to skin contact has been shown to provide the following benefits:
- Calms and relaxes both mother and baby
- Regulates heart rate and breathing in the baby
- Stimulates digestion
- Regulates temperature
- Enables colonisation of baby’s skin with mothers friendly bacteria, thus providing protection against infection
- Stimulates feeding behaviour
- Stimulates the release of hormones to support breastfeeding and mothering
- Skin to skin contact (or kangaroos care) helps preterm babies to be more stable, maintain their temperature, fight infection,grow and develop better and be discharged from hospital sooner. (link to section about preterm babies)
Babies are naturally programmed to follow a unique process which leads to a first breastfeed. If they achieve this successfully it is very likely that they will recall this at subsequent feeds, making these significantly easier, in other words a form of imprinting. When observed, all babies followed the same pattern, although some did take longer than others. After birth, babies who are placed skin to skin on their mothers chest will:
- Initially babies cry briefly – a very distinctive birth cry
- Then they will enter a stage of relaxation, recovering from the birth
- Then the baby will start to wake up
- Then begin to move, initially little movements, perhaps of the arms, shoulders and head
- As these movements increase he will actually start to crawl towards the breast
- Once he has found the breast and therefore his food source, he will tend to rest for a little while. Often this can be mistaken as the baby is not hungry or wanting to feed
- However after his rest he will start to familiarise himself with the breast, perhaps by nuzzling, smelling and licking before he finally attaches
- Once he has suckled for a period of time, he will come off the breast and fall asleep.
All babies will follow this process, providing it is not interrupted by, for example, taking the baby away to weigh or the mother going for a shower. Interrupting the process before the baby has completed this sequence, or trying to hurry him through the stages, is counter-productive and may lead to problems at subsequent breastfeeds.
You can read research on skin contact here.
See a video on skin contact.