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Nine Benefits of Skin to Skin Contact for Newborns

breastfeeding success golden hour skin to skin Nov 08, 2023
Nine Benefits of Skin to Skin Contact for Newborns

Skin to skin contact for newborns is one of the most important things you can do as a new mother. 

Remember back in the early days of the pandemic, we were afraid to hug other people or shake their hands. This lack of human interaction had terrible effects on our mental health. We are designed to interact with each other. 

While skin-to-skin contact is a more intimate form of human interaction than a hug or a handshake, it is an essential form of human contact. It provides a lasting bond with another person.

This type of contact is especially important for newborn babies in the first minutes and hours of life. Skin-to-skin contact for newborns has many benefits. The transition from the warm and dark womb to the cold, loud outside world is stressful. Skin-to-skin contact helps a baby to be calm.

In this article, we will look at nine ways that newborns benefit from skin to skin contact during the golden hour and beyond. 

Respiratory Rate and Heart Rate

Skin to skin contact means that a newborn is completely naked (or diapered) and lays against his or her mother's bare skin. Typically, the obstetrician places the newborn directly on the mother's chest or abdomen right after delivery.

If you miss out on the golden hour because your baby goes to the NICU, you can enjoy skin-to-skin contact later. Nurses in the intensive care unit are well versed. They will show you the way to achieve skin to skin (or kangaroo contact) with your little one. 

Research shows that skin to skin contact between mother and her newborn will regulate and stabilize the baby's respiratory rate. Studies show that babies who participate in kangaroo care have lower breathing rates. Skin to skin contact promotes better oxygenation. It also helps to maintain the baby's breathing pattern within a normal range.

Similarly, skin to skin contact has a positive effect on the heart rate of newborns. Kangaroo care stabilizes a newborn's heart rate. Several studies demonstrate this significant benefit.

Decrease Risk of Hypothermia

Hypothermia (decreased body temperature) is a significant concern for newborns. They are more susceptible to heat loss. Newborns come from a wet environment and have a large body surface area compared to adults. This sets them up for rapid heat loss and risk for hypothermia. 

During skin-to-skin contact, the warmth from the mother's body transfers to the baby. Also, this close physical contact between mother and baby allows for continuous monitoring and adjusting as needed. This process ensures that the baby's body temperature remains within an optimal range.

Studies have shown that newborns who receive skin-to-skin contact are less likely to experience hypothermia compared to those who do not. This practice acts as a protective barrier against heat loss. The mother's body provides a direct heat source to her newborn.

Decrease Hypoglycemia

Hypoglycemia is defined as low blood sugar. Certain newborns are at higher risk for hypoglycemia. They include large for gestational age babies, newborns who are born to diabetic mothers, any baby that experiences stress around the time of delivery as well as preterm babies. Long standing hypoglycemia affects a newborn's brain and other metabolic systems.

If you deliver your baby in the hospital, there are protocols in place to screen at risk babies for low blood sugar. Skin-to-skin contact with their mother will decrease a newborn's metabolic demands. In this relaxed state, they are less likely to use up their glucose stores and become hypoglycemic. 

Newborns with low blood sugar are more likely to receive infant formula supplements. While this practice is meant to keep them safe, it can often deter a mother from practicing exclusive breastfeeding. Prevention of hypoglycemia with skin to skin contact and early breastfeeding enables a mother to reach her breastfeeding goals more easily. 

Breastfeeding

Skin-to-skin contact establishes a close bond between mother and baby. This creates an ideal environment for initiating breastfeeding. The physical closeness stimulates the release of oxytocin, also known as the "love hormone." Oxytocin causes milk letdown, decreases maternal bleeding after delivery and forges a bond between mother and baby. This connection promotes successful breastfeeding.

Additionally, skin-to-skin contact improves breastfeeding rates during both the newborn hospital stay and beyond. Both term and preterm babies benefit greatly from this practice. It enhances their ability to latch onto the breast and feed effectively.

A mother's milk production depends on how often her newborn feeds at the breast. Skin to skin contact after birth facilitates this frequent feeding pattern.  It also reduces the use of breast milk substitutes.

Newborns who spend time in skin to skin contact with their mothers also breastfeed more frequently. Frequent breastfeeding in the early hours after birth allows mom's breast milk to increase in volume. Babies who are skin to skin with their mothers are in close proximity to the source of nutrition. In addition, they are less stressed and more willing to go to the breast if they are held close. 

Maternal Bonding

You have spent 9 months waiting for your new baby to arrive. Your maternal instincts and flood of bonding hormones kick in as soon as you see your newborn. Skin to skin contact for mothers serves to strengthen that bond. 

Furthermore, skin-to-skin contact has been found to have significant positive effects on maternal mental health. Studies have shown that mothers who practice skin-to-skin contact experience lower depression scores compared to those who do not. 

In addition, contact with baby skin by his or her mother reduces cortisol levels (stress hormone) in both the mother and the baby. Lower stress levels are beneficial for moms and babies. It is much easier to bond with a baby after birth who is not overly stressed. 

Good Bacteria

As our knowledge about the interplay between the gut microbiome and our immune system continues to increase, we know that good bacteria plays an important role in overall health. 

Skin-to-skin contact facilitates the transfer of beneficial microbes from the mother's skin to her baby. These microbes, commonly referred to as "good bacteria," are essential for not only colonizing the baby's skin, but also their gut. The establishment of a healthy gut microbiome is also achieved through breastfeeding.

The gut microbiome plays a critical role in various aspects of human health, including digestion, metabolism, and immune system development.

Research shows that newborns who experience skin-to-skin contact have higher levels of beneficial microbes. This includes bacteria such as Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus. These bacteria colonize their gut compared to infants who do not receive this contact. These good bacteria are associated with reduced risks of respiratory infections, allergies, and gastrointestinal issues.

Pain Relief

Skin-to-skin contact has a profound analgesic (pain relieving) effect on newborns. When a baby is held close to their mother's bare chest, the body heat and comfort initiates a physiological response in both the mother and baby. Not only does this contact cause the release of oxytocin, but also the "feel good" or "pain relieving" endorphins as well. These hormones decrease a newborn's respiratory and heart rate as well as blood pressure.

Research also shows that infants who receive skin-to-skin contact during painful medical procedures experience less pain. Whether it is a heel stick or an injection of a vaccine, babies are calmer during stressful procedures when they are skin to skin with their mother.

Less Crying

Numerous studies show that infants who receive skin-to-skin contact cry less frequently and for a shorter duration. The calming effect of the close physical contact is found to reduce fussiness and promote a more relaxed state in newborns.

The benefits of skin to skin contact for babies are numerous. As we have discussed earlier, this type of contact with their mother decreases a newborn's stress levels and therefore decreases their crying times. 

Easier Transition to Extra Uterine Life

The transition from the protected environment of the womb to the outside world can be a challenging process for newborns. However, skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth will greatly facilitate this transition. As well as promote a smoother adjustment to extra uterine life.

During skin-to-skin contact, the naked baby lays on the mother's bare chest. Ideally, this is done in the immediate minutes after birth. Whether mom has a vaginal birth or a cesarean birth, skin to skin contact should be a priority in newborn care. In a perfect world, skin to skin is accomplished before you know the baby's birth weight. Also, other medical interventions need to wait until after the golden hour is over (as long as the baby is stable).

This golden hour time is important for transitioning as well as breast feeding successfully. This request is something that needs to be part of your birth plan.

Conclusion

Hopefully, I have taught you the numerous benefits of skin to skin contact between mothers and newborns as a part of the birth experiences. Both premature babies and term babies benefit from this type of contact in the first minutes, hours and days of their new lives.

In order to safely perform skin to skin contact in the moments after birth, be sure there is an experienced health care provider or other member of the medical team at your bedside to monitor the baby.

Additionally, if you would like help communicating your desires for breastfeeding to your birthing facility, download our free My Breastfeeding Plan

© 127 Pediatrics; November 2023

This article is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice.

Dr. Wadley, 127 Pediatrics
Andrea Wadley, MD, IBCLC

Dr. Andrea Wadley is the owner, pediatrician, and breastfeeding medicine specialist for 127 Pediatrics. She has an established house-calls only pediatric practice in Colleyville, TX. She is also the owner and operator of the 127 Pediatrics Online Breastfeeding Medicine and Education Center.

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