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The Importance of Skin-To-Skin Contact With Your Baby

We have always known that babies benefit hugely from being touched, cuddled and held closely to their mother and mothers are actively encouraged to have skin-to-skin contact with their babies as soon as possible after birth. And of course, the father too!  Fathers may not bond in exactly the same way as the mother does when they breastfeed for example, but skin-to-skin contact is equally important with the father and provides the perfect opportunity for them to form a positive bond and attachment with their baby.

Skin to skin contact is a crucial part of the bonding process; finely tuned senses of smell and touch help the newborn to feel safe and secure whilst developing a bond with you through your unique smell and the touch of your bare skin. At first, newborns will recognise their parents by scent and the sound of their voices alone.

When placed on the mother’s chest at birth a healthy baby is able to instinctively search for and find the mothers breast and can attach for a feed without assistance which is amazing!

MAXIMISING THE BENEFITS

Placing your baby directly onto your chest allows full skin-to-skin contact for maximum benefits. This area of the body is packed with sensitive nerve fibres that when stimulated release a cascade of beneficial hormones.

Complications at birth may mean that it is not possible to do this immediately, so the father can stand in to begin with during recovery or in the case of a premature baby, you can make up for lost time as soon as baby is stable enough to do so.

Here are some of the many ways that skin-to-skin contact can be beneficial for both baby and parents:

BREASTFEEDING

We have already discussed how skin-to-skin contact directly after birth can encourage baby to latch on independently, but over the subsequent months, it can also be beneficial as this contact encourages babies to feed more efficiently and helps mothers to produce a greater supply of milk.

Following a feed, the father’s chest is an ideal spot for baby to get some skin-to-skin contact and also enjoy a cosy, contented sleep (and the mother can reset too!).

BUILDING CONFIDENCE

This intimate process of bonding raises each parent’s confidence in their ability to care for their baby. Whilst this is of equal importance to both mothers and fathers, it can be particularly beneficial for fathers who may otherwise find it much harder to establish a role and gain confidence with their baby.

INCREASED OXYTOCIN

Oxytocin is a natural hormone that creates a feeling of relaxation and wellbeing. The feelings generated when this particular hormone is released in the brain lead to an increase in attraction and care giving behaviours. The release of Oxytocin is significantly increased through skin-to-skin contact, promoting stronger bonds, which are of course beneficial to both parents and baby.

COMMUNICATION

Crying is not the only way for babies to communicate, as they can also communicate with us through touch and expression. ‘Rooting’ is a great example of how a baby can demonstrate that they are hungry. The moment that little mouth puckers up and starts searching for something to latch onto, it is clear what they want!

EMOTIONAL SECURITY

Babies feel secure when strong emotional bonds are formed within the family unit. Feeling safe and content gives them the emotional security they need for the best possible start in life.

Research has also shown that skin contact with a baby can greatly reduce the risk of mothers experiencing postnatal depression. This is thanks to the increased levels of oxytocin, which helps to balance and stabilise a mother’s hormonal levels and reduce blood pressure.

NATURAL PAIN RELIEF

In any situation where a baby feels stressed, skin contact can help relax them so significantly that their cortisol levels (stress hormones) are reduced. This soothing effect helps to reduce or ease pain in any situation where baby might feel discomfort, for example when a vaccination is administered.

HEALTHY DIGESTION AND WEIGHT GAIN

Reduced levels of cortisol in babies minimises gastrointestinal issues and makes the body more efficient at absorbing and digesting nutrients. This helps babies to retain their birth weight and generally improves their weight gain.

MAINTAIN A HEALTHY TEMPERATURE

Newborn babies are entirely dependent on their carers for warmth, as they have no capacity to regulate their own body temperature alone. Skin to skin contact takes care of this naturally. When held to the mother’s chest a natural process called thermoregulation occurs and the heat in the breasts adjusts naturally to help baby maintain a healthy temperature.

Father’s may not be able to provide this same process of thermoregulation, but nonetheless their chests are the ideal place for a newborn. In this position, babies remain warm and healthy glucose levels are retained.

ACCELERATED BRAIN DEVELOPMENT

Lying on their parent’s chest, listening to a rhythmic heartbeat and steady breathing pattern is incredibly relaxing for a baby. In addition to providing positive sensory stimulation, this position also helps babies to fall asleep. Quality sleep patterns and sensory stimulation are essential, setting the stage for optimal brain development and maturation in babies.

BOOST YOUR BABIES IMMUNE SYSTEM

During skin-to-skin contact, antibodies are passed through the skin from the parent’s mature immune system, giving babies immune systems a healthy boost!

So, as you can see, the benefits of skin-to-skin contact are really quite impressive. Not only is it a natural, zero technology way to provide numerous benefits to your baby, but it also can reinforce and strengthen your family unit.

December 10, 2023

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