There’s a reason why you just want to hug/kiss/maul that sweet squishy lovemuffin that is your beautiful newborn baby.
It’s biological, that urge you’re feeling. Primal. Instinctual. And baby feels it too.
That’s why it’s so great to do skin-to-skin with baby, also known as “kangaroo care”
Of course, most moms have heard about the importance of doing skin-to-skin contact with baby right after birth and delivery. But how about after that?
How about after the first few days at home with baby?
How can you maximize skin-to-skin contact in the months (yes, months) after that?
Read on, mama!
But first, let’s cover all of the basics.
What is skin-to-skin care, or kangaroo care?
Skin-to-skin care, or kangaroo care, is when baby is placed naked (or in a diaper) onto Mom’s bare chest. Immediately after birth is the ideal time to start, but skin-to-skin is beneficial for older infants as well.
8 reasons why skin-to-skin contact with baby is a MUST!
- Supports breast-feeding – Believe it or not, baby usually prompts the first breast-feeding session by crawling to the nipple, licking or massaging the breast and nipple, and finally suckling. None of this can happen if mom and baby are separated—even if just separated by clothing. Baby knows the breast mostly by touch at first. NICU babies who were given skin-to-skin care grew faster and were more likely to be exclusively breast-feeding at the end of 3 months. Additionally, researchers discovered that failure to breast-feed was directly related to interruptions in early skin-to-skin contact.
- Lower complications during C-section – In one study, gentle cesareans (immediate skin to skin with Mom, reduction of noise, and initiation of breast-feeding in the operating room) were similarly or slightly less likely to cause complications than traditional C-sections.
- Regulates baby’s temperature and other physiological processes – Called Thermal Synchrony, Mom’s chest heats up to warm a cold baby, or cools down if baby is too warm. Skin to skin also stabilizes blood sugar, breathing, and blood pressure. What’s really interesting is that doing skin to skin with Dad has some of the same benefits for baby—such as stable blood sugar levels and temperature. Who knew!?
- Reduces stress for baby and Mom – Baby has been living inside Mom’s body his whole life, so it makes sense that he wouldn’t be ready to be away from her so soon. Similarly, Mom sleeps better when baby is near because her protective instincts tell her baby is in danger if he is not near (even if Mom intellectually knows baby is safe). When baby is removed from Mom, he begins to show signs of distress. Studies show that skin-to-skin contact reduces stress hormones, decreases crying, and increases the quiet and alert state.
- Helps Mom and baby bond – Oxytocin and other attachment-forming hormones are released when baby is skin to skin with Mom, helping her feel nurturing towards baby. Studies show that moms who had even a small amount of skin-to-skin contact with baby soon after birth are more loving towards baby as he grows up. Moms were more confident when caring for and handling babies when they spent some time skin to skin as well.
- Potentially reduced maternal postpartum depression – Studies show that mothers who did skin-to-skin contact with baby during their hospital stay were less likely to have stressful and negative feelings after they went home.
- Supports brain development – Early attachment between baby and Mom is critical for normal brain development. When baby is born, his brain is only 25% the size it will be when he’s an adult. Research shows that early interpersonal events impact how the brain continues to grow (preparing baby with a brain suited to its environment). Babies held skin to skin experienced better head growth than babies held in a traditional position.
- Supports healthy colonization – When babies are placed on Mom right away, it greatly reduces the risk of baby being colonized by yucky hospital bacteria instead of Mom’s. When skin to skin happens right away, baby is also less likely to get bathed or dried, removing Mom’s bacteria and the vernix that protects him.
Here’s how to maximize skin-to-skin time with baby
We know that kangaroo care is beneficial, but how do we make the most of it? Here are some tips for doing just that!
Skin-to-skin care is most important right after birth, if at all possible. Ann-Marie Widstrom, PhD, RN, MTD, a Swedish nurse-midwife, began to document her observations of babies who were placed skin to skin immediately after birth. She found that infants followed a set of predictable behaviors. The stages were:
- The birth cry – This cry happens immediately after birth, as baby’s lungs expand.
- Relaxation – This stage is marked by baby being calm, with no mouth movements or suckling hands, while being skin to skin and covered by a light blanket.
- Awakening – Baby may make small movements, open eyes, and make mouth movements.
- Activity – Baby is actively opening eyes, mouthing, and may begin to root (looking for the breast).
- Resting – Baby will rest at some point—or many points—during the first hour after birth. There’s no need to be concerned if he is not actively trying to nurse yet.
- Crawling – The “breast crawl.” Baby may push with his feet and hold his head and shoulders up, looking for the breast.
- Familiarization – Once baby reaches the breast, he will begin familiarization. He may lick, massage, and touch the nipple. This may last for 20 minutes.
- Suckling – Finally baby latches on and feeds, usually about an hour after birth (but some may start earlier).
- Sleep – Baby sleeps after nursing, about 1–2 hours after birth.
Without skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth, baby isn’t allowed to go through this normal routine. Many times baby is even rushed through it because onlookers are worried that he can’t latch, find the breast, or is lazy. Observing the normal routine of the newborn is an amazing process that can only begin with immediate skin-to-skin contact.
If you give birth via cesarean, you can have baby skin to skin immediately as well, assuming you are stable and aware. Many moms find this early skin-to-skin contact to be incredibly important in their overall birth experience when they have an unplanned cesarean birth. Ideally, you want to do skin to skin with baby for at least an hour, and for as long as you want to (just don’t sleep with baby directly on you; instead, create a safe bed sharing arrangement if you want to go that route).
If Mom needs medical attention or to concentrate on birthing the placenta, Dad can do kangaroo care with baby. More later on how dads can do skin to skin.
In the days following birth
When you’re recovering in the hospital, birth center, or at home, spend some time laying back in bed (with pillows propping you up) without a top on. Place baby between your breasts, and cover her with a light blanket to keep her back warm. Allow her to nurse on demand. Laid-back breast-feeding is particularly helpful in the early days because it helps relieve overactive letdown (common in the early days), and allows baby to latch on easier. This position is great for skin-to-skin contact and will help baby become a champion nursling.
Do skin to skin as often as you like, and try to leave baby there for at least an hour. When baby is skin to skin, your body produces more prolactin, the hormone responsible for your milk supply. This is especially important if your baby is premature and you aren’t able to bring her home yet. As long as you are able to hold her, you can do skin to skin.
If you want to be a little more modest, you can wear a tank top or button-down shirt that can help you keep baby skin to skin without showing too much skin. There’s also a skin to skin tube, which helps hold baby on your chest.
As you heal and are able to get around more, you can do skin to skin while doing other things. A baby carrier like the Moby Wrap is great for this. Just wear a tank top or button-down shirt (etc.) underneath the Moby. Dress baby in a diaper only, and place her in the Moby right on your bare chest. Many babies love this and will fall asleep. If baby wants to nurse, you can take her out or nurse her right in the carrier.
Be sure to let Dad get some skin-to-skin time in too. It’s a great way for Dad to bond with baby, and it can be really helpful for Mom when she needs to shower or just have a few minutes to herself (it’s OK to do that, really!).
In the months following birth
There’s no set age when skin-to-skin care is harmful or no longer recommended. Skin to skin can happen for as long as you want. In the first 3 months of life (also known as the 4th trimester), baby continues to benefit from skin-to-skin contact. In fact, she craves it. Touch continues to be very important, as baby turns into a toddler. Breastfeeding is its own form of skin-to-skin contact. Many babies massage Mom’s breast with their hands as they nurse.
As you become more active and go out more often, a tank top or button-down shirt may not work for you anymore. There are some great kangaroo care clothing styles and baby carriers that can make skin to skin easier. Kangaroo care shirts can make it easier to go from skin to skin with baby to shopping or even work. The skin to skin T-shirt can also help allow skin-to-skin care while out and about. They even have one for dads!
As we mentioned earlier, the Moby Wrap is excellent for kangaroo care and beyond, but you need to wear something underneath it. This soft carrier is great while out and about since it acts as a shirt too. If you’re looking for a long-sleeved skin-to-skin carrier, this one is popular.
Kangaroo care for dads too!
We know that a baby’s cry has a physiological effect on Mom. Neurotransmitters fire, signals are sent, and Mom responds immediately to baby. It turns out the same thing happens to dads, which is actually pretty uncommon in nature! Though dads don’t have milk, they are capable of doing all the other baby care stuff Mom can do. In fact, Dad is very valuable in instances of premature birth or if Mom needs medical care after birth.
In my birth videos with my son Griffin, many commenters wondered, “Why did the husband take his shirt off right as the baby was being born?” The answer, of course, was so he could do skin-to-skin with baby while Mama was busy delivering the placenta.
Dad can do skin to skin with a button-down shirt, or he can just take his shirt off in the hospital or birth center. Baby carriers such as the Moby are perfect for dads since it’s one size fits all. In some ways, skin to skin is easier for dads because it’s socially acceptable for them to go without a shirt!
An excellent start for baby
Kangaroo care is a great way to help baby get on track with breast-feeding, achieve optimal development, and be healthier and happier overall—who doesn’t want that?! There are a number of ways to make it work for you and your family, so we hope you find what works for you!
How did you do skin-to-skin time with baby?
Share with us in the comments below!