skin to skin newborn

Kangaroo Care: Benefits of Skin-to-Skin Contact with Your Newborn

During pregnancy, you probably heard about the importance of skin-to-skin contact, when to do it, and for how long. But did you know that it provides several proven medical benefits? Here, we'll go over everything you need to know about kangaroo care and the benefits of skin-to-skin contact with your newborn.

What is Skin-to-Skin Contact?

Skin-to-skin contact, also called kangaroo care, involves placing your newborn directly onto your bare chest. Ideally, your newborn will be practically naked, maybe with a diaper and some socks or a beanie on for warmth. This allows your skin to come in contact with theirs, which prompts a cascading number of benefits.

While babies should have plenty of skin-to-skin contact with their mothers, dads or non-childbearing partners can also engage in kangaroo care to increase benefits and strengthen your bond with your baby. It won't happen overnight, but repeated periods of skin-to-skin contact have been proven to have positive effects on everyone involved.

When Should You Start Skin-to-Skin Contact?

Ideally, you'll want to practice skin-to-skin contact as soon after birth as possible. In healthy full-term labor, this can be done regardless of whether you've given birth vaginally or had a c-section. However, if any congenital conditions or your baby's medical health needs immediate attention, you may need to wait to participate in skin-to-skin care. Talk to your medical team about your preferences for skin contact and timing, and try to include them in your birth plan. Dads or non-childbearing partners can also start skin-to-skin contact with their baby anytime after birth.

The benefits of kangaroo care may be at their highest during the "golden hour" period, the first hour of your baby's life. During this period, immediately after birth, your hormones are pre-wired to create an intense chemical connection with your newborn. Many healthcare providers understand this and will let you hold your newborn right after birth to reap these benefits.

Can You Provide Kangaroo Care in the NICU?

Skin-to-skin contact is beneficial for all newborns, especially premature babies or those with low birth weight. However, in these situations, your baby may be placed directly into the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Luckily, in most situations, your baby's care team will help you engage in skin-to-skin contact as soon as it's safe.

The importance of skin-to-skin contact extends to babies in the NICU, but you may have to make some changes to accommodate your baby's medical needs. Babies who have IVs or who are attached to medical equipment may need to remain in place for their safety, or you may need to shorten each session to prioritize your baby's health. Regardless, the NICU team will help you navigate any challenges so you can still enjoy lots of skin-to-skin care whenever possible.

Benefits of Skin-to-Skin Contact After Birth

Skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth is great for both mom and baby. Consider the following benefits of skin-to-skin care to encourage you to make time for snuggles.

Regulates your baby's temperature.

Your body's metabolism produces heat that radiates from your skin, but your newborn's internal systems are still being developed. What's interesting is that studies have shown that your breasts can actually adjust to accommodate your baby's temperature. So, if your newborn is cold, your body heat ramps up to help keep your baby warm; if your newborn is hot, your body heat decreases to avoid overheating. Although some studies suggest that men's body temperature regulation can also have this effect, it's not as well studied or documented, and there's still a bit of skepticism. Still, the many other benefits should never discourage your partner from participating.

Stabilizes your baby's heart rate and breathing.

When your newborn is nestled against your skin, their heart rate and breathing patterns stabilize. Research has shown that babies who experience skin-to-skin contact tend to have more stable heart and respiratory rates than those who don't. This can help contribute to overall better health outcomes for your baby.

Skin-to-skin contact after birth helps regulate your newborn's blood sugar.

Skin-to-skin contact can help regulate blood sugar levels by reducing stress and promoting more effective breastfeeding. When your baby is calm and close to you, they're more likely to latch on and feed well, which helps maintain their blood sugar within a healthy range. This is particularly important for babies at risk, such as those born to mothers with gestational diabetes.

Increase the bond between mother and baby.

The physical closeness of skin-to-skin contact fosters an emotional bond between you and your baby. This intimate time lets you become familiar with each other's scents, sounds, and touch. The release of oxytocin, often called the "love hormone," during this bonding time also strengthens your connection and can lead to a more secure attachment.

Encourages breastfeeding.

Babies who engage in skin-to-skin contact are more likely to latch on effectively and breastfeed longer, contributing to better nutrition and health. This promotes a healthy immune system and digestive tract development for your newborn. It also helps you release essential hormones that support milk production and let-down.

Help your baby alleviate stress.

Holding your baby close to your skin reduces their cortisol levels, which may help alleviate stress and reduce the occurrence of colic. This calming effect not only helps your baby feel more secure and content but also supports their overall health and development. Less stress means better sleep, improved digestion, and a stronger immune system for your little one.

Improves feelings of safety and security.

For your baby, being held skin-to-skin provides a sense of safety and security. This close contact mimics the womb environment, helping your newborn feel protected and loved. These feelings are crucial for your baby's emotional development and can lead to better sleep patterns and overall well-being.

Reduces the risk of postpartum depression.

Skin-to-skin contact can also have tremendous benefits for your mental health. The release of oxytocin promotes feelings of happiness and relaxation, which may help reduce the risk of postpartum depression. However, if you experience any signs or symptoms, it's important to seek professional help.

Tips to Help You Improve Skin-to-Skin Time

To get the most out of your skin-to-skin time with your newborn, consider the following tips.

  • Always shower before skin-to-skin contact, or at least ensure that the skin on your chest is clean.
  • Try to wear something comfortable that can be easily opened from the front. If you're wearing a bra, you'll need to remove it for optimal skin-to-skin contact.
  • Place your baby on your chest in an upright position. Rest their head on one side of your chest against your breast. Hold your baby in a cradling position to keep them stable.
  • Although your baby should be (mostly) naked, a hat and socks can help keep them warm. You'll also want to keep them in a diaper to avoid any messy accidents.
  • Consider putting a warm blanket on your baby to keep their back covered during skin-to-skin contact after the birth. This will increase feelings of safety and security.
  • Try to rest and relax. Take normal breaths, close your eyes, and just enjoy the time with your baby. Relaxing together is a great way to increase the parent and child bond and can also help regulate feel-good hormones.
  • Give yourself plenty of time and opportunities throughout the day. While you won't be able to hold your baby against your skill all day, scheduling multiple sessions will help you maximize the benefits.

Things to Avoid When Engaging in Skin-to-Skin Contact with Your Baby

There are also a few things that you should avoid when practicing kangaroo care with your newborn. The most important are as follows:

  • Put away your electronics and turn off the TV. Keep your focus on your baby, and let them hear your heartbeat and voice as you gently soothe them.
  • Don't engage in skin-to-skin contact if you have any open wounds on your chest, signs of a rash, cold sores, or any other irritations that could be passed on to your newborn.
  • Under no circumstances should you smoke before or during skin-to-skin care. Secondhand smoke is extremely harmful to you and your baby, and the effects of nicotine can cause rapid heart rate and high blood pressure.
  • Take a break from kangaroo care if you're sick. Your baby needs time to develop their immune system, and although breastfeeding can help, being in extremely close contact for extended periods of time can increase their risk of catching your germs.

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