Benefits of Skin-to-Skin contact
Skin to Skin contact helps a baby to bond with her mother outside of the womb and create a bond for life.
Skin-to-Skin contact, kangaroo care, is especially used immediately after birth and with baby’s that were born prematurely. Just 15 minutes Skin-to-Skin contact during ‘the golden hour’ as they call it, has measurable effects. Months later mothers have more confidence in taking care of her baby and likes her baby more. The levels of oxytocin, the love hormone, are higher just after birth than at any other moment in life. Without any guidance or help your baby knows to find the way towards your breast and starts sucking. To disturb this process by just one teaspoon of sugar water reduces the chance that breastfeeding will be the primal food resource after three months. After one and a half to two hours after birth baby falls into a deep sleep.
The first hour might be golden, the hours following are at least silver. The pregnancy hormones create new brain paths and the contact with the baby makes that these connections in the brain are built. This is the moment that motherly behavior is being taught. The longer mother and baby are separated, the more effort it costs to learn this. The beautiful thing about skin-to-skin is that it enhances itself. Oxytocin, prolactin, and dopamine flow richly through the blood of mother and baby. Baby’s react stronger on their mother and therefore, mothers react stronger on their baby’s. This is one of the reasons how a positive spiral is born.
The South African researcher and pediatrician Nils Bergman, specialized in research in skin-to-skin contact pleads to kangaroo during the whole day, or preferably the whole maternity period. Bergman: skin-to-skin is our biology. The mother regulates the temperature of the baby who in return learns to regulate her thermostat on a temperature that feels just as comfortable as the temperature of the mother. Same goes for heartbeat, glucose, blood pressure and all other body functions. By physical contact with the mother, all these systems balance. At the same time, the mother sees what are baby is already capable of doing and enjoys the eye contact.
Investing in physical contact is investing in the future health of children and their mothers.
Effects of Skin to Skin on the baby
– Stabile temperature, heartbeat, and respiration
– Optimal glucose levels, less weight loss, better growth
– Better drink technique and effective breast massage
– Crying less and shorter, less stress and fewer cortisol levels
– Less pain during medical exams
– Fewer infections, better immune system (first year)
– Smiles more when 3 months
– Better speech development and faster development the first year
Effects of Skin to Skin on the mother
– Less blood loss and amnesia, placenta comes out faster
– Less production of cortisol, so less fear and anxiety
– Less pain during medical exams
– Better mood, possibly less chance of depression
– Overall more satisfied with the given care
– Breastfeeding goes smooth, feeding longer and less engorgement
– More bonding behavior, intense desire for eye contact and holding
– Beter bonding overall spends more time with the baby, more interaction, more self-confidence.
Benefits of Skin-to-Skin contact
Most research about skin to skin is done in the early beginning of a baby’s life. About the period afterward, we know little. In 1 research mothers were asked to apply kangaroo care 5 hours per day, for the first week. The 3 weeks following 3 hours per day. The results were noticeable; the social behavior was developed faster than psychologist had foreseen. The carrying mothers felt more positive and optimistic. Even though the test group was small for clear conclusions, the mothers seemed less at risk to develop postnatal depression. Bergan ‘ we don’t know how much skin to skin care we should advise because there is just 1 research done. When we look at animals, we know that the separation of mother and child cause lots of stress. With certain animals as horses mother and child can be separated for a short time, but with other animals, it’s causing too much stress. We are used to placing baby’s in their own bed, it’s a cultural habit. But the point is that we don’t know how much separation a baby can handle. When parents don’t recognize the little signals baby’s give, baby’s will stop giving them. Baby set’s itself for a stressful life.
According to the American Institute for Kangaroo Care it’s important that Kangaroo Care is being practiced long enough. It takes about 30 minutes before mothers temperature adapts to her baby’s one. The difference is that when fathers or others adults make baby’s warmer. Usually, fathers have enough after that period just because it becomes too warm and baby is looking for a cooler place at the same time by stretching an arm or crawling towards a cooler place.
Breastfeeding moms can arrange the temperature of their baby’s very well. For them, a minimal of 2 hours of skin to skin is recommended in order for the baby to feed and sleep well. Longer than 2 hours is allowed of course.
The brains of a baby aren’t fully developed at birth. A baby is born with 25% of the brain volume of an adult. Next to that, there are barely connections in the brain (synapses) between the brain cells. Specifically, in the first year, a baby’s brain grows enormously. The brains are a mirror of the enormous development a baby goes through the first year. In the early days was thought that brains go through a genetic development, now a das it becomes more and more clear that development is a dynamic process that is being directed by the experiences baby’s have. What you encounter in life decides the structure of your brain says professor in development psychology Marianne Riksen-Walraven. With positive development as talking, latching and cuddling hormones that increase the development are released. Baby’s brain develops and grows by good contact. By negative experiences, stress hormones are released that negatively influence brain development.
The nerve system of a baby doesn’t have the ability to stop stress by itself. Therefore, it depends on another mammal, the parents. Spoken in scientific language: in the first year of life, stress organization is mostly externally organized.
The well mend advise; they need to learn how to soothe themselves is BS. Sorry for my French. Young baby’s aren’t able sufficiently to comfort themselves. When small baby’s don’t receive enough soothing, as adults have more difficulty handling stress. You can see this as a thermometer that is set in place during the first year. When the baby receives enough help regulating their stress, the thermometer is well set and their bonding is well established. Skin to skin contact and babywearing can help with this important step in life.
One research was done with 2 groups of moms. The first group received a baby carrier, the second group a bouncy chair. After one year the baby’s of the first group were much better grounded in respect to the second group.
As a midwife or a doula, you can help parents to keep their baby’s close. For example, after bath time it’s not immediately necessary to dress the baby. Ask the parents if they’d like to hold the baby skin to skin and cover with a blanket. This helps the baby reaching his ideal temperature. Later on, parents can buy a carrier to become more mobile and keep their baby close. Win-win.
Skin to skin contact is extra important if there’s something going on in the family. Research has discovered that touching on a regular basis helps to diminish the effects of a negative pregnancy. If you as a midwife or a doula are able to help the parents in this important time, they will get used to keeping the baby close, also after maternity is over.
Investing in skin-to-skin contact is investing in the future health of our children. Psychic health and physical health. More physical contact has consequences for our whole society. Neuropsychologist James W. Prescott discovered that he could predict peacefulness of a culture if he knew if baby’s were carried or not. Makes sence to me.
A powerful intervention where we need to have more attention for in our professions.
Translation of the article in Italian is coming soon