The Benefits of Skin to Skin Contact
The Benefits of Skin to Skin Contact
by Caroline Conneen
Incorporate Skin-to-Skin Time into Breastfeeding
Skin-to-skin care is worth incorporating into your parenting toolbox. Not only for just after birth and the first bath, its benefits continue when practiced throughout the first three months of life. Whether born preterm or full term, all babies benefit from this special time. Skin-to-skin time has many surprising benefits.
Although it sounds fancy and difficult to do, it’s not. Ideally, start immediately after birth for at least an hour. As he hears your heartbeat, breath, and familiar voice, he feels almost as though he’s back inside you, all the while becoming healthier. No wonder babies are not as fussy when spending time this way!
The Golden Hour
Life from inside the womb to outside the womb is a difficult transition. You can make a big difference at this moment. Give into those maternal instincts that tell you to hold your baby. When possible, the best place for him to be within minutes of being born, is on you in a vertical position, sternum to sternum. Barring any unusual circumstances, hold him skin to skin for that first hour or so, called the golden hour, allowing him to breastfeed when he’s ready.
Within the first one to three hours of life, he is alert and eager to meet you. Shortly after a vaginal birth, within seconds to minutes, he is ideally placed vertically on your chest between the breasts, even as the placenta is being delivered. Should you have a surgical delivery, skin to skin is easily offered within the first two hours at most hospitals. Recognizing the benefits, some physicians are starting to offer skin to skin in the operating room.
Though few facilities allow skin to skin to occur in the operating room after a C-section, most encourage it just after a vaginal delivery. Throughout this golden hour, he may crawl to the breast and begin suckling. When this happens, it is wonderful and strongly encouraged. Keep this time gentle and quiet, minimizing external distractions such as loud sounds, bright lights, and numerous visitors.
If he’s close to full term when placed skin to skin, he may lift his head to look up at you. The first time this happens, his strength will surprise you. Placing his hands near his shoulders allows him to stretch his neck muscles and lift his upper body. When he rests, he turns to one side or the other as he hears familiar and comforting sounds. In this position, his head is turned and you’re able to see that he has a good airway.
Benefits of Skin-to-Skin Time
Your baby will benefit from a total of three or more hours of skin-to-skin contact in increments throughout the day. Although this sounds like a lot of time, it’s not when it’s broken into segments and incorporated into infant care and breastfeeding sessions. Contrary to popular belief, frequent holding does not spoil your baby. Rather, it increases his feelings of well-being and security.
Skin-to-skin time is a good segue into breastfeeding. It is also a natural burping position to place him in after he finishes on the first side. At times, follow the second breast with more skin-to-skin time as a nice way to allow him to sleep deeply in between feedings. His wake and sleep cycles become well-regulated and he spends less time crying overall. Since he sleeps more soundly on you, he’ll be rested and more alert for his feedings, requiring less effort to wake him.
While awake in the skin-to-skin position, this counts as tummy time as he lifts and turns his head, sometimes taking stretches of many seconds to gaze up at you. Bonding through skin to skin can be enjoyed by either mom or dad while relaxing, listening to music, or gently conversing.
He will have better blood sugars, body temperatures, and breastfeed more effectively. He is more likely to develop a nicely shaped head since he’ll be spending less time on his back. When mom holds him, oxytocin and prolactin levels increase, enhancing the bonding experience and milk supply. Your baby will be calmer and happier, so mom and dad are too!
Step by Step for Skin to Skin
- Sit comfortably in a semi-reclined position.
- Place your infant, wearing only a diaper, vertically against you, chest to chest.
- Allow her to lift and turn her head so the ear is over where your heart beats.
- Cover her with a blanket and tuck it around you so that you’re both cozy.
- Relax and enjoy this special time together!
Please note: While it is acceptable and even expected for her to fall asleep in the skin-to-skin position, it is not safe for you to do so. Do not fall asleep while holding your baby in this position or any other.
Note: The views expressed in this article belong to the author.
Contributed by Caroline Conneen, FNP, R.D, IBCLC, Nurse Practitioner, Dietitian, and Lactation Consultant
Caroline is one of a great team of lactation consultants at Mary Washington Hospital in Fredericksburg, VA, where skin-to-skin time is encouraged after delivery. She is also the author of a new print and audio book for new moms: Latching Well: Breastfeeding with an Integrative Approach, available wherever books are sold.
Caroline Conneen, Latching Well: Breastfeeding with an Integrative Approach: (Meadville, PA: Christian Faith Publishing, 2021), 39, 41-42, 44.