Healthy Birth Practice: The Importance of Skin-to-Skin Contact

Most people recognise the importance of breastfeeding right after giving birth, but only a few know the benefit of skin-to-skin contact for both the mother and baby.

Skin-to-skin contact involves placing the naked baby over the mother’s chest immediately after birth for at least one hour. A blanket is placed over them for warmth. In just a few minutes, the benefits of this healthy birth practice become noticeable as the mother and baby begin to relax, and the child’s heart rate, breathing, and body temperature stabilise.

But beyond that, here are other valuable reasons why most baby-friendly hospitals include skin-to-skin contact in the maternity services they offer.

Helps initiate breastfeeding

In a recent study conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO), it was revealed that uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact for 90 minutes helped maximise the chances for the newborn to become ready to breastfeed.

When placed on their mother’s chest, newborn babies inherently find and attach to their mom’s breast. This instinctive behaviour and the elevated levels of oxytocin at birth might be the primary reasons why there is a direct relationship between skin-to-skin contact and enhanced breastfeeding results.

Breastfeeding, as you may know, offers several health benefits to the baby.

Breast milk contains essential nutrients that contribute to infant growth. It also has indigestible sugars that serve as the perfect food for the bacteria coating the intestinal wall, which improve digestive functioning and fight harmful microorganisms. Experts further believe that these beneficial bacteria can protect babies against different types of allergies.

Facilitates transfer of good bacteria

The transfer of good bacteria from mom-baby through vaginal birth can’t be overstated. But another way of getting a baby exposed to their mom’s bacteria is via skin-to-skin contact after birth.

The bacteria found on the skin of mothers is different from those thriving in a hospital incubator. Early exposure to their mom’s bacteria can stimulate babies to develop different healthy bacteria that can help boost their immune systems.

Stabilises body temperature

Pregnant mothers maintain their baby’s temperature by moving around when it’s cold and sweating when it’s hot. Newborn babies have yet to develop the same ability; thus, they cannot instantly adjust their body temperatures at birth.

Though using an artificial warmer may seem a good idea, nothing beats the mother’s body in stabilising her child’s body temperature. Studies have shown that skin-to-skin care provided by either the mother or father is far better than electric warmers, with a mom’s body having a minor edge over a dad’s body.

Regulates blood sugar levels

Before birth, babies get the glucose their body needs through the placenta. After they’re born, they can get it from their mom’s milk. But in most cases, their sugar needs exceed what they are getting from breast milk, which can lead to low blood sugar level. As a result, they can’t feed properly, thus exacerbating the problem.

Skin-to-skin care for at least an hour is essential for newborn babies’ adaptation to their new environment, especially as protection not just against low body temperature but also low blood sugar level.  

Discourages newborn crying

Studies revealed that babies who received skin-to-skin care were less likely to cry than those separated from their moms and dads after birth.

Some health professionals equate a newborn cry to a separation distress call, which is a kind of reflex that calls the mother back to the young. After birth, most babies stop crying after they are reunited with their moms. So it is worth mentioning that babies will be less likely to cry when they feel the warmth and protection provided by their mothers.

Letting babies stay with their mothers in the same room at the hospital ensures that their needs are immediately addressed, and skin-to-skin care is provided as often as necessary.

Eases the transition from the womb

Babies who receive skin-to-skin care are more stable than those who are immediately put in a warmer after birth. They also show better psychological outcomes as indicated by factors like better breastfeeding and less crying. As a result, these babies suffer from less stress after being born; thus, they can navigate their new environment with ease.

Boosts mother-baby communication and bonding

After birth, parents have the opportunity to learn about their child’s behaviour, including signs of discomfort, hunger, and fullness. Skin-to-skin care helps ensure the mothers understand how their babies convey their needs, improving mom-baby communication and maternal confidence. In turn, babies develop a sense of security and trust.

Moreover, skin-to-skin cuddling affects how moms relate to their babies. Studies have shown that skin-to-skin mothers cuddle and touch their babies more often. Even months and years later, they are more likely to snuggle more with their babies during paediatrician visits.

Though most research concentrated more on the benefits of skin-to-skin care during the first hour or two after birth, more recent studies reveal that it could also benefit babies as they grow older.

These benefits include reduced maternal anxiety, better maternal attachment behaviour, mother-child reciprocity, and enhanced child cognitive development.

With all these short- and long-term health benefits of skin-to-skin contact, giving birth in a hospital that advocates this throughout the mother’s hospital stay and beyond can make a huge difference in their child’s development.

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