Skin-to-Skin Contact with Newborns

Congratulations! You have carried your baby for nine months, providing nonstop nurturing, love, and care. Now comes one of the best parts of your motherhood journey — meeting your baby face-to-face for the very first time.

Locking eyes with your little one for the first time, and bonding with your baby, is an exciting and memorable experience. You will find yourself studying every part of his face and body, absorbing his smell, looking deep into his eyes, and reassuring him through your words and affection. All these actions help the bonding process. The importance of skin-to-skin contact straight after birth, where possible, is becoming much better known. Did you know it can provide a number of benefits to baby, mom, and dad?

What Is Skin-to-Skin Contact?

Skin-to-skin contact is when your baby lies between your breasts with your skin touching his. Be sure to keep a blanket over him for warmth.

Whether you have given birth vaginally or via a c-section, you can practice skin-to-skin contact immediately or soon after delivery. Depending on your medical situation after delivery, you can usually ask to hold your baby right after the birth. Try to introduce skin-to-skin contact as soon as possible after your baby is born, preferably within the first hour after birth, also known as “the golden hour” — this is the time when both you and your baby are primed to form an intense chemical connection with each other. Research has shown that what happens during this time can maximize the bonding experience between mother and child.

Provided you and your baby are healthy, you can request skin-to-skin contact with your baby from medical staff, safe in the knowledge that the benefits are great, and the memories last forever. You can even state in your birthing plan that you'd like this skin-to-skin contact to be interruption-free.

What Happens During Skin-to-Skin Contact?

Once you have your baby on your chest, typically you can expect your baby to relax and listen to your heartbeat, open his eyes and gaze at you, move his hands and mouth, reach toward your breast, and even suckle on your breast.

Don't be alarmed if you don't feel positive feelings straight away. After all, you've just been through an exhausting labor, but you might find this bonding time will reenergize you.

What Are the Benefits of Skin-to-Skin Contact With Your Baby?

Skin-to-skin contact after birth is often common practice in hospitals as the benefits are becoming undisputed and appreciated. You might be wondering why your baby needs skin-to-skin contact, so here are some of the top benefits:

  • Temperature control: Your body becomes a natural incubator and regulates itself depending on the temperature needs of the baby. It's not only moms who have this ability; the same goes for dads during skin-to-skin contact with their baby.

  • Regulating heartbeat and more: This time together can also help regulate the baby's heartbeat, stabilize his blood sugar levels, and aid sleep. Other studies indicate that it boosts the baby's mental development and can help reduce the risk of obesity.

  • Enables breastfeeding: As your baby's heart rate is synchronized with yours, a calming hormone is released in his body that allows him to nurse sooner, and for longer. At the same time, your body also releases a hormone called prolactin, which stimulates milk production.

  • Bonding: During skin-to-skin contact, both moms and dads release hormones like oxytocin, prolactin, and endorphins. These hormones help you emotionally bond with your baby and spark intense feelings of love and protectiveness. This can also help to decrease the risk of postnatal depression and stress. These feel-good hormones, as well as a decrease in stress hormones, can also help the family bond.

  • Less crying: Skin-to-skin contact has also been proven to reduce crying, with as little as three hours of snuggling a day. Another great reason to spend time cuddling your baby.

  • Helps baby feel safe: Your baby has just come out of the warmth and safety of the womb and is getting used to the lights and noises of the outside world. Skin-to-skin contact can help your baby feel safer. Your baby not only feels the warmth of your skin, but also is getting to know your smell and listening to your breathing. He can also recognize familiar sounds, like the sounds of your heartbeat and voice.

  • Reduces risk of postpartum depression: There are studies that indicate skin-on-skin contact can help reduce the risk of postpartum depression and anxiety.

In the third trimester of pregnancy you might be thinking about how you can best bond with your baby. You might be worried that you will have difficulty bonding, or that you will find breastfeeding difficult. Skin-on-skin contact is one way to form that initial bond with your newborn. For more information about this shared time, check out the graphic below.

What If I Can't Hold My Newborn Right After Birth?

Medical professionals know the importance of skin-to-skin contact, and if you and your baby are doing well, they will place the baby on your chest as soon as possible. After a Cesarean, in most cases, you will still be able to hold your baby pretty soon after birth. However, discuss this with your medical team before going into labor, and include your preference for skin-to-skin contact in your birth plan.

In case of complications, or if your hospital doesn't allow contact in the operating room, you will be able to hold your baby in the recovery room. While you are being stitched up after your C-section, your partner can take over and hold the baby close.

If there is a medical emergency with your baby, then medical staff might let you hold his hand or hover your hand over his head so he can sense that you're there. Then when he's ready, you can enjoy lots of skin-to-skin time.

Does Dad Need Skin-to-Skin Contact Too?

Yes! Dads also experience a rush of hormones and joy. The benefits of skin-to-skin contact with dad include bonding with their baby, feeling more confident as a father, and feeling a surge of protectiveness toward their baby. Dads can also pass on the same benefits as moms do in terms of helping to regulate their baby's temperature and heartbeat. Plus, while dad's spending some one-on-one bonding time with the baby, mom will be able to get a little rest, too. Later on, dads can also do skin-to-skin while bottle feeding. Remember, it's not just skin-to-skin. There are many other great ways for dads to bond with their baby.

How Long Does My Baby Need Skin-to-Skin Contact?

You can keep doing your skin-to-skin contact for months while your baby is still happy with it. It can help calm your baby during the first few months. You can also practice skin-to-skin breastfeeding, which is breastfeeding topless while your baby has only his diaper on. Once your baby is older, and you notice he becomes restless or tries to move away, it could be time to give him a little space. At this point, you can bond in other ways, such as snuggling and holding hands.