What is skin-to-skin contact with your baby?
You may have heard that when your baby is born, you should have some time holding them to you, without clothes. You should also try to repeat this as often as you can in the early days and months.
Skin-to-skin contact is, simply, holding your baby with their bare skin next to yours. The moment of birth is an amazing one and when your baby emerges, the first thing your midwife or obstetrician will do is to pass them up to your stomach or chest for the very first cuddle between you.
Your baby has been tucked up inside you for nine months and is used to feeling constant contact on their body, so putting them against your skin at birth helps them feel safe. Your baby can feel your warmth and smell your skin, as well as hearing your voice and heartbeat. All this combines to make a baby feel secure.
What are the benefits of skin-to-skin contact?
Skin-to-skin contact has a range of benefits for mother and baby:
It triggers a rush of powerful hormones that help you bond with your baby
It calms you after what might have been an intense labour
It keeps your baby’s body temperature stable
It keeps your baby’s breathing and heartbeat at the correct rate
It maintains your baby’s blood sugar levels
It starts an interest in feeding, as it stimulates the digestive system
It helps your baby build up immunity to infections, as they benefit from the ‘good’ bacteria in your birth canal and on your skin
It helps get breastfeeding off to a good start, as it stimulates bonding hormones
It can help you deliver the placenta as your baby suckles, causing the uterus to contract
It has been observed that newborns, if placed on their mother’s tummy after birth and left there undisturbed, will start to open their eyes, relax, then begin to crawl slowly to the breast and start sucking. This is called the “breast crawl.”
Can dads and partners do skin-to-skin contact?
Yes, it’s a great way for dads and partners to bond with their newborn, and your baby will soon become used to the voices and smells of other family members.
Skin-to-skin at birth
After your baby is born, mum and child should be left as long as possible to establish bonding and start feeding and you can request that new baby checks be delayed beyond this vital period, sometimes called the golden hour. It’s something you can put on your birth plan. Your health professionals will still be able to assess your baby’s health and APGAR score while you are holding them.
How long should a skin-to-skin session last?
You should enjoy as much skin-to-skin time with your baby as you can. Many new mums dress their baby just in a nappy, while they have their top open, for large parts of the day so that your baby can feed on-demand. You can continue to have skin-to-skin time for as long as you and your baby like, well beyond newborn days.
When might I not be able to hold my baby next to the skin?
Of course, it’s not always possible for you to hold your baby immediately. Sometimes your baby needs interventions at birth, especially if they are premature, so you may not be able to hold them. If they need to be in a special care baby unit, after an initial period of care and checks, you will be encouraged to cuddle with your baby as much as possible, a method of nurturing your baby known as Kangaroo Care.
Why you might have to wait a little while for your first cuddle
If you are having post-birth care yourself, remember that Dads and partners can also provide valuable skin-to-skin contact too! For normal births and even Caesareans, you will be able to have your baby straight away for that all-important first bonding session. If you’re exhausted or the birth has not gone how you expected, holding your baby can help lift your spirits, as it releases oxytocin, a mood-boosting chemical.
Health organisation UNICEF believes strongly in the benefits of skin-to-skin contact and have launched the Baby Friendly Initiative, which sets standards for health professionals to help mums and babies at the moment of birth. It aims to help parents establish a close and loving relationship with their baby.
What happens if your baby doesn’t seem to enjoy being skin-to-skin?
Make sure you have removed any jewellery that’s sharp or cold. Also avoid strong-smelling scents your baby might not like, as a baby’s sense of smell is very strong. Even if your baby is not in the mood for cuddles, stroking them or offering a baby massage can have great benefits. Some parents find it hard to enjoy being skin-to-skin with their baby – that may just be a personal thing, but it may also be an indicator for postnatal depression. If you are worried, speak to your health visitor or GP who can refer you for some sensitive and supportive help.