Most people enjoy skin to skin contact, whether it’s a hug from our kids, holding hands with our partner or a luxurious massage. However, whilst skin to skin contact is an important part of our lives, it’s also important for the health of our newborns. Not only does this help our babies relax, feed and sleep better, but it also helps improve their health.

What is skin to skin contact?

Also known as ‘Kangaroo Care’, skin to skin contact came about by accident in Columbia during the late 70s. Apparently, too many premature babies were dying due to a lack of incubators and other resources. So given no other options, the doctors laid the babies on their mother’s chests and wrapped them up. Remarkably, they saw a huge increase in the health of the babies. This very simple technique became known worldwide as Kangaroo Care.

Today, it is supported by the WHO and is a key component of the UNICEF Baby Friendly Initiative Standards. Essentially, skin to skin contact helps your baby adjust to life outside the womb, supports successful breastfeeding and promotes healthy sleep.

What are the benefits for newborns?

There are many physiological benefits including stabilising the heart beat and respiration, regulating their blood sugar, encouraging milk production and helping over-stimulated babies relax and feed more effectively. It also reduces crying, helps babies settle and sleep, and promotes bonding between mother and baby.

It’s fair to say that if your baby is particularly unsettled or has discomfort from reflux then it’s likely you have experienced a few sleepless nights. By stripping your baby down and having them on your chest, it can help your baby relax, feed well and sleep better, giving everyone a greater sense of comfort, including your baby.

One of the major benefits for premature or low birth weight babies is weight gain. They also have fewer infections, for example MRSA, and improved heart and brain function. Overall, many studies have shown that initiating skin to skin contact immediately after birth can have a significant effect on short-term health, an outcome everyone will support!

Tips on practicing skin to skin contact with your baby

It’s during the first three months of your baby’s life, considered to be their ‘fourth trimester’, that your little one experiences a slow transition to their new world. This is when this close skin contact with your baby is really important, as it helps this transition take place in a positive and calm environment.

So if you are interested in doing skin to skin with your baby, here are a few tips to get you started.

  • Immediately after birth have your baby placed on your chest with a wrap covering both of you for at least an hour. Most hospitals already promote this closeness in the delivery room, so as long as you are both well post birth, there shouldn’t be any issue.
  • In the days, weeks and months following delivery, spend at least an hour each day doing skin to skin. It doesn’t need to be at the same time of day.
  • Dads / partners can also take part and this can be in the delivery room or operating theatre if mum has had a caesarean section, as well as in the months following delivery.
  • Placing a soft blanket over yourself and your baby creates a lovely warm environment that comforts your baby, recreating the feeling of being in the womb. If your baby falls asleep on your chest that’s fine, after you’ve finished you can also transfer them to their cot or carrier, freeing up your time to do something else while your little one is asleep.
  • Skin to skin contact also makes cluster feeding easier. Cluster feeding often happens during the early evening when your baby might be tired, overstimulated, feeding to increase your milk supply or simply wanting to be close to you. This is a good time to practice skin to skin contact. Get yourself set up on the couch with a big drink of water, some snacks and your favourite show.
  • It is also important and hugely beneficial if you are bottle feeding your baby, helping you to build a very special bond with your little one.

Summary

Skin to skin contact eases your baby’s transition from the womb and can be practiced from the moment they are born, lasting for weeks and even months. So the more time you spend with your baby having skin to skin contact, the more secure and comforted they feel, and the better they relax, feed and sleep.

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