New parents are often told how important ‘skin to skin’ contact is once their baby has been born, but what actually are the benefits of doing this?
Benefit 1: Skin-to-Skin Keeps Baby Warmer and Regulates Breathing
Mothers naturally adjust “the warmth of their breasts to keep their infants at the optimal temperature,” says Midwifery Today. “Maternal breast temperature can rise rapidly, then fall off as your baby is warmed. As the baby starts to cool, the breasts heat up again—as much as 2 degrees C in two minutes!”
Because their systems are immature, babies sometimes temporarily stop breathing and/or have slowed heart rates. As mummy breathes, baby will synchronize their breath and heartbeat to yours, taking cues from you – pretty amazing!
Benefit 2: Enhances Bonding
The hour after birth is thought to be a crucial period in which mum and baby are best primed to form a chemical connection with each other. The reason this is the case is due to the hormone oxytocin, otherwise known as the ‘bonding hormone’. Oxytocin stimulates the uterus to contract during labour and also encourages the feel good emotions and bonding once baby is born and also initiates lactation for breast-feeding.
Studies have also shown that a newborn baby’s ability to smell is acute and both the mother and baby release powerful pheromones which attract them to each other and for the baby to ‘sniff’ out its mothers nipple in order to instinctively begin feeding.
Benefit 3: Reduced Postpartum Depression
Though there are many factors that affect postpartum depression, new research suggests that skin-to-skin contact immediately following birth may reduce the number of cases in new mums. The ability to hold, smell, kiss, and feed your baby right after birth all stimulate hormonal patterns that reinforce mothering behaviours and feelings of well-being. If these experiences are lacking, some experts believe that the mother’s body interprets this as something going wrong with the birth. This may induce a stress/grief response that, in some cases, may create feelings of anxiety or depression.
Benefit 4: Better Sleep
Skin-to-skin contact helps babies fall asleep more easily and also sleep for a longer period of time. This allows mum to get more rest and thus reduces stress levels…happy mum = happy baby.
Benefit 5: Better Gut Health & Immunity
Skin-to-skin contact helps baby’s digestive system mature. The contact stimulates the vagal nerve, causing increased growth in size of the villi in the newborn gut, which provides a larger surface area for the absorption of nutrition.
There is also less chance of infection, because babies given skin to skin contact become colonized with the bacteria on their mother’s own skin. This triggers mums milk to produce antibodies in response and makes it specifically protective against those bacteria. In other words, it strengthens your baby’s immune system.