All About Skin-to-Skin Contact (Kangaroo Care)

Locking eyes with your newborn for the first time is an exciting and memorable experience. You will find yourself studying every part of her face, absorbing her smell, and reassuring her through your words and affection.

All these actions help the bonding process in the minutes, hours, and days after your baby’s birth, but did you know how important skin-to-skin contact can be during this time as well? Read on to learn all about what skin-to-skin contact (also known as kangaroo care) is, how to practice it, and how it may benefit the baby as well as Mom and Dad.

What Is Skin-to-Skin Contact (aka Kangaroo Care)?

Skin-to-skin contact, also called kangaroo care, consists of placing your nearly naked baby (perhaps just wearing a diaper and a beanie) directly on your bare chest, skin to skin, with a blanket, gown, or shirt wrapped over you and his back for extra warmth.

Both mothers and fathers can practice skin-to-skin contact, which can start soon after your baby is born and continue during infancy.

Once you have your baby on your chest, you might see that your baby starts to relax and listen to your heartbeat, opens her eyes and gazes at you, or moves her hands and mouth.

If you’re a breastfeeding mom, you may find that your baby reaches toward your breast, and even suckles on your breast if he is hungry.

Don’t be alarmed if you don’t feel positive feelings right away. If you’ve just given birth, remember that you’ve just been through an exhausting labor; you might actually find this bonding time will reenergize you.

If you’re the dad, you'll also need to give it time. Father-baby bonding doesn’t necessarily happen overnight. However, skin-to-skin contact can eventually contribute to the bonding process.

When Can You Start Skin-to-Skin Contact?

As the mom, whether you’ve given birth vaginally or via a cesarean section, you can practice skin-to-skin contact immediately or soon after delivery.

Depending on your condition and your baby’s medical situation after delivery, you can usually ask to hold your baby right after birth.

You might even like to state in your birth plan that you’d like skin-to-skin contact to begin as soon as possible after delivery and for it to be interruption-free.

As the dad, you can start skin-to-skin contact at any time, too. For example, if your partner is receiving care or stitches after a C-section or an episiotomy, this is a good opportunity for you to have some skin-to-skin contact with your newborn while you wait for the procedure to be finished. Once your partner is well enough, she can take over skin-to-skin contact.

The Golden Hour

Research has shown that what happens during the first hour of a baby’s life can maximize the bonding experience between parent and child.

This is why it’s ideal to introduce skin-to-skin contact as soon as possible, ideally within the first hour after birth. This hour is also known as “the golden hour”—the time when both you and your baby are primed to form an intense chemical connection with each other.

Nowadays, medical professionals know how important the golden hour is, and that’s why they typically allow the mother and newborn skin-to-skin contact as well as breastfeeding soon after birth. The medical examination, weighing, and other procedures can come after the golden hour has taken place.

What If You Can’t Hold Your Newborn Right After Birth?

Medical professionals understand 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 birth, in most cases you will still be able to hold your baby soon after birth. However, discuss this with your healthcare provider ahead of time, and include your preference for skin-to-skin contact in your birth plan, if you’re having one.

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 cesarean section or an episiotomy, your partner can take over and practice skin-to-skin contact.

If there is a medical emergency with your baby, the 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.

What happens right after you give birth cannot always be planned in advance, but if your healthcare team knows your preference for skin-to-skin contact, they will try to make it happen as soon as it is possible.

What Are the Benefits of Skin-to-Skin Contact for You and Your Baby?

Skin-to-skin contact after birth is often common practice in hospitals as the benefits have become widely known.

Moreover, skin-to-skin contact is beneficial for both full-term and premature babies. In fact, the practice was first developed for premature babies, who were shown to thrive when given kangaroo care.

Here are some of the top benefits skin-to-skin contact may provide:

  • Regulates body temperature. Your body becomes a natural incubator and regulates itself depending on the temperature needs of the baby. Studies have shown that your breasts can adjust to match the temperature of your baby, increasing in temperature if your baby’s cold, decreasing in temperature if your baby is hot. It’s not only moms who have this ability; the same goes for dads during skin-to-skin contact with their baby.

  • Stabilizes the baby's breathing, heartbeat, and more. This time together can also help regulate the baby’s breathing and heartbeat, stabilize his blood sugar levels, and aid sleep. It may also have a positive effect on the baby's brain development.

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

  • May reduce crying. Skin-to-skin contact has also been shown to reduce crying, with as little as three hours of snuggling a day — another great reason to spend time cuddling your baby. You can read more about how to soothe your crying baby here.

  • Helps your 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 secure. 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.

Here are some of the top benefits of skin-to-skin contact for you and your partner:

  • Promotes 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. These feel-good hormones, along with a decrease in stress hormones, can also help the family bond.

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

Should Dads Have Skin-to-Skin Contact With Their Newborns?

Yes! Dads also experience a rush of hormones and joy. The benefits of skin-to-skin contact for dads 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 is 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 contact while bottle-feeding.

In addition to skin-to-skin contact, there are other good ways for dads to bond with their babies such as talking and playing together and interacting during diaper changes.

For more information about this shared time, check out the infographic below.

Does Skin-to-Skin Contact Help With Breastfeeding?

Yes, studies have found that newborns who get an extended period of skin-to-skin contact with their mothers are much more likely to breastfeed with success.

You can practice skin-to-skin breastfeeding while your baby has only his diaper on and you have a bare chest.

How Long Should You Continue to Do Skin-to-Skin Contact?

It’s not just the skin-to-skin contact that happens right after birth that is beneficial. You can continue skin-to-skin contact for months while your baby is still happy with it. It has many benefits for both you and your baby, so enjoy!

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.

Are There Any Safety Concerns With Skin-to-Skin Contact?

For your baby’s safety, there are some reasons why skin-to-skin contact may need to be delayed in the period after giving birth:

  • If there is a medical concern with your baby after birth, skin-to-skin contact may need to be delayed until your baby is stabilized

  • If your baby has a low Apgar score, skin-to-skin contact may need to be delayed until after monitoring

  • If medical staff believe your baby has breathing problems, she may need to be checked and monitored before skin-to-skin contact can happen

  • If there is a concern that the baby could be dropped because Mom or Dad are tired, lightheaded, or ill after the hours spent in labor and childbirth, the medical team may recommend delaying skin-to-skin contact or suggest that a hospital staff member be present during skin-to-skin contact.

Here are some safety measures that you can practice while doing skin-to-skin contact with your baby:

  • Ignore your phone so that your focus is solely on your baby

  • If you are feeling sick or have an illness, such as a cold, you should wait to do kangaroo care so you don’t pass anything on to the baby

  • Don’t wear perfumes on your skin, as this can irritate your baby’s delicate skin

  • Ensure that your skin is free of rashes, skin lesions, and cold sores

  • Avoid smoking before and during kangaroo care.

The Bottom Line

Skin-to-skin contact or kangaroo care is a wonderful way for you to bond with your baby after he’s born. It helps you connect on an emotional level, and it also provides physical benefits such as regulating your baby’s heart rate and temperature, and flooding your body with feel-good hormones like oxytocin and endorphins. If you are planning to breastfeed your baby, kangaroo care can help encourage it.

In most cases you can practice skin-to-skin contact immediately or soon after giving birth. Having this close contact take place in the first hour after birth is especially beneficial.

Childbirth doesn't always go according to plan, so it might help to remember that in some cases, such as if you’ve had a cesarean section or an episiotomy, you may need to wait a short while before enjoying skin-to-skin contact.

Your baby needing urgent medical care or monitoring may also delay skin-to-skin contact for a short while.

Try not to worry about these potential scenarios. Skin-to-skin contact can be practiced at home in the days, weeks, and months to come. Sooner than you know it, you and your partner will be forming deep bonds with your little one.