skin-to-skin contact with newborn

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The first time you set eyes on your newborn is an unforgettable experience. You may find yourself studying every part of your little one’s face, getting to know your baby’s smell and reassuring him or her with words, touch and affection. This is all part of the bonding process that gets under way in the minutes, hours and days after your baby’s birth, but did you know how important skin-to-skin contact can be during this time? Learn about skin-to-skin contact (also known as kangaroo care), how to practice it and the many benefits it can have for your baby, you and your partner.

What Is Skin-to-Skin Contact (Kangaroo Care)?

Kangaroo care is when you give your newborn baby lots of skin-to-skin contact by placing your naked baby on your bare chest immediately after birth – and regularly in the weeks that follow – with a blanket, gown, or shirt wrapped over you and your infant’s back for extra warmth. Besides being a great way of bonding with your new baby, skin-to-skin care has lots of proven health benefits for you and your little one. Both you and your partner can practice skin-to-skin contact, starting from right after your baby is born (where possible) and continuing throughout infancy.

In Summary

Skin-to-skin contact is a bonding activity in which your baby snuggles up against your (or your partner’s) bare chest. It has many health benefits and can be practiced by both parents from immediately after birth throughout infancy.

What Does Skin-to-Skin Contact Do for You and Your Baby?

Skin-to-skin contact is especially important for premature babies. In fact, the practice was first developed for preemies, who were shown to thrive when given kangaroo care. However, research shows that the benefits of skin-to-skin contact can be enjoyed by all babies (and their parents):

  • Helps regulate your baby’s body temperature

  • Helps stabilise your baby's breathing and heart rate

  • Helps regulate blood sugar levels

  • Eases your baby’s recovery after birth

  • Alleviates stress and separation anxiety in your baby

  • Boosts brain development

  • Encourages breastfeeding

  • Stimulates breast milk production

  • Transfers protective skin bacteria from you to your baby.

Here are a few of the top benefits of skin-to-skin contact for you and your partner:

  • Promotes bonding. Skin-to-skin contact triggers the release of hormones such as oxytocin that help you emotionally bond with your baby and spark feelings of love and protectiveness.

  • Boosts confidence. Kangaroo care can make mums (and their partners) more confident about handling their baby, especially with premature or low-birthweight babies.

  • Reduces risk of postpartum depression. Experts believe that early skin-to-skin contact can help ease or lower the risk of postpartum depression.

In Summary

Skin-to-skin contact has many benefits for your baby and you. It helps ease the transition from the uterus to the outside world, relaxing your baby, passing on protective bacteria and stabilising vital signs like body temperature, breathing, heart rate and blood sugar. Besides this, it encourages breastfeeding and stimulates breast milk production, promotes better bonding and lowers the risk of postpartum depression.

When Can You Start Skin-to-Skin Contact?

You can practice skin-to-skin contact immediately or soon after delivery. Depending on your condition and your baby’s medical situation after delivery, you can usually ask to hold your baby right after birth. Skin-to-skin contact isn’t only for mums who have a natural birth. Kangaroo care is usually possible after an assisted birth (for example, using forceps or suction) or after a caesarean section too. If you’re keen to give your newborn baby skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth, let your birth partner and midwife know, and check the policy of your maternity hospital or birthing centre on kangaroo care. It’s also a good idea to state in your birth plan that you’d like skin-to-skin contact to begin as soon as possible after delivery and for it to be interruption-free if possible. As the non-birthing parent, you can start kangaroo care at any time, too. For example, if your partner is receiving care or stitches after a surgical intervention, this is a good opportunity for you to have some skin-to-skin contact with your newborn while you wait for the procedure to be finished. Once your partner is well enough, she can take over skin-to-skin contact.

In Summary

It’s never too early to start kangaroo care! If your and your baby’s medical condition permits, you can ask for your baby to be placed on your bare skin immediately after the delivery.

What If You Can’t Hold Your Newborn Right After Birth?

Medical professionals understand the importance of skin-to-skin contact, and if you and your baby are doing well, they will place the baby on your chest as soon as possible if you’ve requested it. Don’t worry – even if it’s delayed, the skin-to-skin contact will still benefit you and your baby enormously. After a caesarean section, in most cases you will still be able to hold your baby soon after birth. However, discuss this with your midwife ahead of time and include your preference for skin-to-skin contact in your birth plan, if you’re having one. While you are being stitched up after your caesarean section or an episiotomy, your partner can take over skin-to-skin contact until you’re up to it. What happens right after you give birth can’t always be planned in advance, but if your midwife and other maternity hospital staff know your preference for skin-to-skin contact – and your maternity unit supports kangaroo care – they will try to make it happen as soon as it is possible.

In Summary

Skin-to-skin contact may be delayed in certain instances, such as if you or if your baby needs medical care. In this case you’ll be able to hold your little one close as soon as possible. There will still be lots of benefits for you and your baby. In the meantime, your partner may be able to give kangaroo care until you’re ready to take over.

Does Skin-to-Skin Contact Help With Breastfeeding?

Yes, studies have found that skin-to-skin contact

  • Encourages breastfeeding. Placing your baby on your chest immediately after birth triggers the feeding instinct.

  • Stimulates breast milk production. The hormones that are released in your own body when your baby is placed on your chest help to stimulate your breast milk supply.

Can Dads Have Skin-to-Skin Contact With Their Newborns?

Yes! The benefits of skin-to-skin contact for the non-birthing parent include bonding with their baby, feeling more confident as a parent and feeling a surge of protectiveness toward their baby. A partner can also pass on the same benefits as mum in terms of helping to regulate their baby’s temperature and heartbeat. Plus, while the non-birthing partner is spending some bonding time with the baby, Mum will be able to get a little rest, too. For more on the benefits of skin-to-skin contact, check out the infographic below.

The Benefits of Skin-to-Skin Contact
Benefits for Your BabyBenefits for You
• Helps control body temperature
• Regulates heart rate and stabilises blood sugar levels
• Can improve sleep
• Encourages breastfeeding 
• Helps reduce crying
• Makes your baby feel safe and secure
 
• Helps both parents bond with their newborn
• Boosts confidence 
• Sparks feelings of love and protectiveness
• Aids breast milk production
• Reduces stress, anxiety and the risk of postnatal depression
 

 

How Long Should You Do Skin-to-Skin Contact For?

Kangaroo care is especially beneficial in the first hour after delivery, but it’s not only the skin-to-skin contact that happens right after birth that is beneficial. You can continue to have skin-to-skin contact with your baby as often as you like afterwards, for as long as you and your little one are happy with it. Skin-to-skin contact has many benefits for both you and your baby, so enjoy!

Are There Any Safety Concerns With Skin-to-Skin Contact?

For your baby’s safety, there are a few safety guidelines to follow when giving your baby skin-to-skin contact:

  • Don’t sleep while giving kangaroo care, to avoid the risk of overheating and SIDS.

  • Keep your baby upright. Don’t give kangaroo care while lying flat on your back. If you need to lie down while giving your baby skin-to-skin contact, prop yourself up with a pillow or two so your infant’s head is a little higher than his or her feet.

  • Never consume hot drinks or food while holding your baby.

  • Keep your baby in view at all times.

If you are using a sling or wrap to hold your baby during kangaroo care, follow the TICKS rules:

Tight. Keep the sling or wrap tight enough to keep your baby snuggled up close to you for comfort. Loose fabric that allows your baby to slump down inside the carrier or sling can interfere with breathing and put strain on your back. ✓ In view at all times. You should only need to glance downwards to see your baby’s face, with no need to open the fabric of your sling or wrap. ✓ Close enough to kiss. Keep your baby’s head a close to your chin as you can while remaining comfortable. It should be possible to kiss your baby on the head or forehead just by tipping your own head forward. ✓ Keep chin off the chest. Always make sure there’s at least a finger-width of space under your baby’s chin. If your infant is curled up so the chin is forced onto his or her chest, it can restrict breathing. ✓ Supported back. If your baby is in an upright position, his or her back should be supported with the tummy and chest against you. A loose sling can cause your baby to slump, which may cause breathing difficulties. If you carry your child in a cradle position, make sure his or bottom is in the deepest part of the sling so the back isn’t folded over, forcing the chin into the chest.

In Summary

Kangaroo care is safe as long as you take a few simple precautions, like not falling asleep with your baby on your chest or consuming hot drinks or food while holding your infant. If you use a wrap or sling during skin-to-skin contact, follow the ‘TICKS’ guidelines above.

The Bottom Line

Skin-to-skin contact or kangaroo care is a wonderful way of bonding with your baby straight away after giving birth and in the weeks and months that follow. It helps you connect on an emotional level and provides physical benefits such as stabilising your baby’s heart rate, temperature and blood sugar. Kangaroo care also helps with breastfeeding. In most cases you can practice skin-to-skin contact immediately or soon after giving birth. Having this close contact take place in the first hour after birth is especially beneficial. Childbirth doesn't always go according to plan, so keep in mind that sometimes – for example, if you’ve had a caesarean section or an episiotomy, or if your baby needs immediate treatment or care – you may need to wait a short while before enjoying skin-to-skin contact. Try not to worry about these potential scenarios. Skin-to-skin contact can be practiced in the days, weeks and months to come. It won’t be long before you (and your partner) are enjoying all the benefits of those magical bonding moments.

How we wrote this article
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the National Health Service (NHS). You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.