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The Power of Skin-to-Skin

The Power of Skin-to-Skin

by Wendy Wright

A year ago

You’ve carried him for 9 months. You’ve spent 10 hours in labor and an hour pushing. Now he’s finally here. Some birth facilities still whisk baby away to a warming table to be cleaned and swaddled before being returned to your arms. But, a better scenario would be to have baby placed on your chest or abdomen, skin-to-skin with you, until the first breastfeeding has taken place. Here’s why.

  • Babies adjust to life outside the womb better: All of your baby’s systems will stabilize better if he is left skin-to-skin with you. His heart rate and breathing will normalize, he will stay warmer and his blood sugar won’t drop.
  • Babies cry less: One study showed that skin-to-skin for three hours a day can reduce crying by 43 percent. Who wouldn’t want less crying from baby? Less crying equals less stress – for baby and for you!
  • Babies breastfeed better: Babies come into this world programmed to find their food source. After an unmedicated birth, if a baby is placed skin to skin with mom, he will exhibit a series of reflexes ending with breastfeeding about an hour after birt These early feedings set the stage for good milk production.
  • Babies are colonized with mom’s microbes: Rather than picking up microbes from the doctors, nurses and hospital room, babies pick up mom’s microbes (those he will be most exposed to in his home environment). Type of birth and method of feeding are two other sources of bacterial colonization along with skin-to-skin, and all three impact the development of a healthy gut and immune system.
  • Babies grow better: Because baby isn’t expending calories to keep warm or to cry, he can use them instead to grow, physically and mentally. Add to that the easy access to breastfeeding, and you’ve got a winning combination.
  • Babies feel less stressed (and so do moms): Skin-to-skin touch reduces the stress hormone, cortisol, and increase the hormone of love, oxytocin. In fact, during painful procedures such as a heel lance or vaccination, babies feel less pain when skin-to-skin compared to any other intervention.

What if my baby is born by cesarean?

Some hospitals are now practicing ‘gentle cesarean,’ where baby is allowed to be skin-to-skin with mom while her incision is being repaired and during recovery. Work with your healthcare provider and hospital if this is something you want – many facilities just haven’t tried it yet or haven’t thought through the logistics.

What if my baby is born too early?

Premature babies experience the same benefits of skin-to-skin as their term counterparts. This can be especially important to a medically fragile newborn. Skin-to-skin can be more challenging if your baby is attached to intravenous lines or monitors. With help from hospital staff, though, skin-to-skin can be one thing that mom can do for her early baby better than anyone else.

What if I didn’t get to have my baby skin-to-skin right after birth?

Skin-to-skin contact continues to be beneficial no matter how old your baby is. In the first weeks and months of life, anything you can do to recreate a womb-like environment will help to keep your baby happy. Being in contact with your body, snuggled up against you, provides just what baby needs!


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