The Power of Skin-to-Skin Contact

After nine months living inside of his mother, the baby's natural habitat is her body.  A person's habitat is where he functions best.  For a baby, this means growing.  A baby who is held skin to skin with his mother will have a regular heartbeat and breathing rate.   His sugar levels and temperature will be stable and he will be calm and content.  Only on his mother's body will his breast seeking instincts be rewarded and reinforced.  Babies who are put skin to skin with their mothers immediately following birth are more likely to breastfeed with out problems and for a longer duration.  Skin to skin contact between mothers and babies increases both of their oxytocin levels.  Oxytocin is a feel good hormone.  It has a calming effect on both mother and baby and enhances bonding. The calming effect on the mother can positively influence her feelings towards her partner as well.   Interestingly, oxytocin is released in other feel good situations such as message and orgasm.   Oxytocin is directly responsible for milk flow during breastfeeding.  More oxytocin can make breastfeeding and pumping easier.  Studies have shown that babies held skin to skin during painful medical procedures experience less pain.

Contact helps babies to thrive

Babies who are separated from their mothers experience profound stress.  Babies can't survive away from human contact and they have yet to learn that their time in the bassinet is temporary.  The first thing the baby will do is cry.  Babies who are removed from their mothers in the hospital cry ten times more than those left skin to skin.  When the cry is unanswered, the baby's body shuts down to preserve energy.  His heartbeat and breathing rate slow down and his body temperature decreases.  His digestion stops working and the baby stops growing. This behavior has been seen in all the mammals that have been studied.

Skin to skin helps solve breastfeeding problems

Skin to skin contact is often used to fix breastfeeding problems.  Babies who latch poorly or who won't latch on at all will often do better when put back into their natural habitat and left to their own devices.  The mother should have nothing on above her waist and the baby should wear only a diaper.  If the room is chilly, a blanket can be put over the two of them.  The baby should be held vertically between the mother's breasts.  Usually the baby will begin bobbing his head up and down as he looks for the breast.  He will then throw himself towards one breast.  The mother will support him at breast height and let him latch on.  Some babies need more time skin to skin than others.  Meanwhile, the mother can sit back and relax and know that she's giving her baby the best.

Learn more about ways to bond with your baby in our baby forum.