Mom and Baby: Skin to Skin

Hillcrest lactation consultant Cheryl Coleman shares the importance of skin to skin contact between mom and baby today on our blog.

Holding your baby against you, skin-to-skin, gives your baby the best start to life after birth and helps with the initiation of breastfeeding.  

Holding your baby skin-to-skin (S2S) starting within the first few minutes of birth supports three vital changes that your baby will make in the early hours after birth.

  • First, S2S holding will help your baby maintain a stable temperature.  They are coming from a nice warm environment to a colder one, just as we get chilled coming out of a nice warm bath.  The mother maintains a warm temperature and when baby is held close to her, with a warmed blanket placed over both mom and baby, the baby warms up quickly and keeps his/her temperature stable.  This decreases stress and helps baby maintain his/her blood sugar levels.
  • Secondly, S2S holding helps calm the baby and allows the normal heart and blood flow changes that need to happen with birth.
  • Thirdly, S2S holding helps calm the baby and allows the changes in breathing to occur without added stress.  Remember, your baby has never felt lungs full of air until birth.  That is a big change.  While some crying may be helpful, crying is often a call to get our attention for help and may lead to more stress.  Babies placed skin-to-skin with their mothers tend to cry less.

Additional benefits include decreased stress which allows the baby to adjust completely to his/her new world, tune in to those around him/her, be less irritable, and then find their way to the breast for the first feeding.  Most babies placed S2S with their mothers immediately after birth will show feeding cues and nurse within the first hour of life.  Research has shown us that these babies are more successful breastfeeders in the first few days of life and tend to breastfeed longer.

Moms who are choosing to formula feed their babies also need to do S2S holding.  Beyond the benefits for the changes our babies’ bodies need to make after birth, S2S holding assists the baby’s immune system to protect him/her in their new environment and of course helps with maternal-infant bonding.

While the benefits are not the same in the immediate time after birth, fathers can and should do skin-to-skin holding with their baby if the mother for some reason cannot.  Studies have shown that when fathers held their babies skin-to-skin because of maternal illness the babies were calmer and showed less stress.

When you have your baby, make sure that your care providers know that you will want to hold your baby skin-to-skin as soon as possible after birth.  At Hillcrest this is now our standard of care as long as mother and baby are healthy and able.  Let all family members and friends know that in order to help your baby fully adjust to life after birth you will be holding him/her skin-to-skin, so they may have to wait a bit to hold the new family member. Most are more than willing to wait once they know that this is best for your baby and for you. Hold your baby S2S frequently in the first days, weeks, and months.  The relationship you develop while holding your baby skin-to-skin is one that will last a lifetime.