Skin to skin
I encourage mothers to spend time doing lots of skin to skin with their babies.
That means stripping baby down to just a nappy and lying him against your bare chest. As with all mammals, this is a normal physiological thing to do.
Studies show the immense benefits of skin to skin for babies, irrespective of whether a baby has been born full-term or premature.
Even if you had a cesarean section, it’s still possible to do skin to skin afterward.
All mammals tend to keep their young next to them after the birth, in really close contact.
If your cat has a kitten, for instance, you don’t tend to take the kitten away from the mother cat, and the same with puppies – you tend to keep them with their mother in close contact for quite a substantial amount of time.
In nature, we know that when mothers and babies are together, they begin to interact with each other, and lots of physiological things are happening.
Equally, we know that there are higher levels of stress if mothers and babies are separated.
There are some wonderful benefits of doing skin to skin with your baby.
After the birth, doing skin to skin immediately in that first hour can be really beneficial in helping your baby to latch on.
We know from studies that skin to skin encourages your baby’s pre-feeding behaviors, which promote latching at the breast.
All your baby’s innate reflexes kick into action. Your baby will be thinking about latching on, and skin to skin helps this to happen.
A good latch can help your baby to drain the breast better, which helps your body to make more milk so your baby will get more milk.
Doing skin to skin will also boost the hormones which are involved in making milk, particularly a hormone called prolactin.
This means that even if you are not breastfeeding, but are exclusively expressing your milk, doing skin to skin in advance of the pumping session will also help to boost your milk supply.
Skin to skin can also help to control your baby’s temperature. Just after a baby is born, they are not able to control their temperature very well.
However, It seems that when in skin to skin with their mother, this ‘thermoregulation’ happens.
Skin to skin also helps to keep all of your baby’s vital signs more stable, i.e., heart rate, breathing, oxygen levels, blood sugar levels!
It’s also fantastic to know that skin to skin will release wonderful hormones that help keep you both calm and connected.
Sometimes things can be a little stressful when you are looking after your baby, and spending time in skin to skin will help to calm your baby down, and calm babies latch better too! So, not only will you feel relaxed, so will your baby.
Many studies show that lots and lots of skin to skin will help you and your baby to form a really good secure attachment for the future.
Additionally, skin to skin helps babies’ brain development while they’re in close contact with their mothers, and this is irrespective of the milk itself.
Also, doing skin to skin just after birth, for instance, helps your baby to get colonized with your bacteria, which is very beneficial as it offers natural protection to your baby and helps to prevent disease.
If you happen to be suffering from postnatal depression or low in mood after having a baby, skin to skin can reduce anxiety and reduces the symptoms of postnatal depression too.
Furthermore, studies also show that fathers who do skin to skin with their babies can help to calm them and promote bonding between father and baby.
Even if your baby has been born prematurely, you can do skin to skin, also known as “kangaroo care.”
As mentioned, babies have been shown to have a much more stable heart rate, breathing rate, and more stable oxygen levels.
Even if they still need to be attached to monitors, you can still have that beautiful, close contact with your baby.
The healthcare staff can help to place your baby’s bare chest against your bare chest, keeping your baby in a nappy and a hat.
You may even have your baby next to your skin, inside an oversized garment.
Premature babies, when placed in skin to skin with their mothers, may start to look around for the breast, and bob and twist their heads.
You can allow your baby to come near to the breast and to have a practice there.
Finally, it’s imperative to reiterate that if your baby is not latching at the breast, despite the skin to skin, then pumping your milk with a good quality hospital-grade double pump is an essential way to keep up your supply.
Even if you do have to pump, it’s great to know that skin to skin will help to boost your supply, keep you both calm and connected in the process, and help to build a close relationship with your baby, with ongoing benefits for the future.
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Version 1.1 published in March 2019. Next review date: Jan 2022
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