Once they become familiar with it, most parents are interested in skin-to-skin contact with their babies shortly after birth—even if they don’t know exactly why it’s so good for them and their baby. But rest assured: there is real science behind it. Here is why this practice is so important and beneficial, both to you and your baby.
1. Less “stress of being born”—We know that infants who don’t experience skin-to-skin right after birth cry more. Additionally, the blood vessels in their limbs also constrict more, which can make their hands and feet appear bluer. Babies who get immediate skin-to-skin contact still cry (and they need to because it helps get amniotic fluid out of their airway!), but overall they are calmer.
2. Improved temperature regulation—A baby’s temperature can fluctuate after birth. Babies who are placed in immediate skin-to-skin with mom have more stable temperatures. In fact, mom’s breasts are able to individually adjust their temperature if she has twins so that each baby is the perfect temperature.
3. More stable vital signs—In addition to the improved temperature, skin-to-skin helps regulate a baby’s breathing rate and heart rate. While this can benefit all newborns, it is even more critical in premature and sick infants. Many NICU nurses have seen a baby go from being somewhat unstable to stable when placed on mom’s or dad’s chest.
4. Increased breastfeeding initiation rates—Moms who have their baby placed in immediate skin-to-skin are more likely to initiate breastfeeding, even in those women who did not think they wanted to breastfeed before giving birth.
5. Longer rates of exclusive breastfeeding—Skin-to-skin, when done after birth and continued, increases the rates of exclusive breastfeeding. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that women exclusively breastfeed for 6 months, so this easy (and free!) technique is a welcome intervention.
6. Improved maternal confidence—Moms who practice skin-to-skin report feeling more confident when it comes to breastfeeding and to interpreting their baby’s cues and needs in general. With all the tricks and trends out there, who wouldn’t want a simple way to help you understand your baby?
7. Helps fix some breastfeeding difficulties—One study looked at mother-baby pairs where latching on was painful or difficult. When babies were undressed and skin-to-skin was instituted for feedings, these babies latched more easily and suckled more effectively. The authors think these babies released less cortisol (the “stress” hormone) and were able to root and attach more effectively when they were in contact with more of their mother’s skin. Those babies who remained clothed for feedings did not see these benefits.
8. Improved glucose levels—Skin-to-skin right after birth and in the days following delivery has been shown to stabilize a baby’s blood sugar. This is very important in babies who are born to diabetic mothers or who are large, since these babies often suffer from lower blood sugar levels after birth. Skin-to-skin may keep these babies out of the NICU and avoid IV treatments for low blood sugars!
9. Decreased pain—Babies who are skin-to-skin cry less when they need blood drawn or have a heel-poke done.
10. Better bonding—Moms who practice skin-to-skin have been shown to score higher on maternal affection scores with their babies. Dads and partners can certainly benefit from this contact too! Hold those babies close—it leaves everyone happy.
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, August 2019
- Skin-to-skin is an easy practice with many benefits.
- Studies have shown that skin-to-skin has noticeable effects.
- Some breastfeeding difficulties can be improved with skin-to-skin contact.