Here local midwife Tina Otte explains skin to skin contact, and why it's so important.
When a mother or father holds their newborn baby directly onto the skin, this baby knows instinctively that “someone bigger than me is looking out for me”
Skin to skin contact (SSC) occurs when mothers and babies are placed together with their skins touching (no blanket or clothing in between them), after birth and while breastfeeding.
You can also lay the baby on your naked abdomen or chest at other times when you’re spending precious time with your baby in the weeks following birth.
SSC should start at birth or as soon as possible after that. Many studies show that mothers and babies should be together, SSC, immediately after birth, and as much as possible in the weeks that follow birth.
Early SCC between mother and baby after birth should be encouraged even if mom has had a caesarean birth. They can spend this time together while mom is being stitched up.
Both mother and baby are placed skin to skin, body to body and both are covered with a towel and not exposed to any cold air. A mother’s body provides sensations that make the baby feel safe and stable.
SCC isn’t routine in all hospitals and needs to be set up and discussed with your care providers – especially in the case of caesarean birth.
SSC makes happier babies
Unless medically necessary, procedures like suctioning and vitamin K injections can wait until the baby has latched on for the first time. Weighing and measuring shouldn’t take preference over SCC.
APGAR scoring can be done while the baby is in SSC with his mother. Often these scores will be higher as the baby is happier, the baby’s temperature is more stable, the heart and breathing rates are more stable and more normal, and the baby’s blood sugar is more elevated.
SSC immediately after birth allows the baby to be colonised by the same bacteria as the mother. This, plus breastfeeding, is believed to be important in the prevention of allergic diseases. When a baby is put into an incubator, his skin and gut are often colonised by bacteria different from his mother’s.
It’s where baby belongs
A mother’s body (or the father’s) is the natural habitat for a baby. Removing a baby from its natural habitat causes significant physiological and emotional distress.
A baby who’s not in close contact with his mother (or father) and is taken away for checks or swaddled in a blanket, may become sleepy or lethargic or becomes disassociated altogether and cry in despair.
Swaddling also interferes with the interaction between mom and baby. With SSC, the mother and the baby exchange sensory information that stimulates and elicits baby behaviour – all the senses that are necessary for the baby’s survival are stimulated by touch.
The benefits of skin-to-skin contact
- Baby is usually more content and cries less. It feels safe for the baby, and he can hear mom’s heartbeat, which is soothing and reassuring to him.
- Baby will have a more stable temperature.
- Heart rate is more normal.
- A skin-to-skin newborn baby’s blood sugar is regulated.
- Bonding between mom and baby is increased, and many moms find they can easily recognise their baby’s needs.
- Newborn SSC after birth gets baby in contact with mom’s bacteria, which helps prevent allergic diseases.
- One of the major skin-to-skin benefits is for premature babies. SSC with preemies can reduce the need for extra oxygen intake.
- Babies who are kept skin to skin for an hour after birth are more likely to latch on without help.
- The baby usually has a more rhythmic breathing pattern.
- Babies who are kept close to mom with skin-on-skin breastfeeding usually breastfeed more often, and this promotes a good milk supply.
- Skin-to-skin bonding will help mom produce more of the hormone oxytocin, which will help with milk let-down and the beginning of the attachment process and bonding.
- Many moms have reported a decrease in breast engorgement discomfort during the first few days with lots of SSC and skin-to-skin breastfeeding.
- The importance of SSC goes far beyond just success with breastfeeding but has proven itself as a way of calming and medicating babies, especially those who are sick or premature.
The benefit of SSC to premature babies
SSC should be available to every full-term baby at birth. It’s even more important for fragile premature babies to help them stabilise sooner. SSC and Kangaroo Mother Care (carrying a preterm baby skin to skin), can contribute hugely to the care of the premature baby.
Studies have shown that premature babies as small as 1.2kg are more stable metabolically (including blood sugars levels) and breathe better if they experience SCC with mom immediately after birth. But, if the baby is struggling, the baby’s health mustn’t be compromised.
But, a premature baby who’s not struggling with respiratory distress syndrome can be in SSC with the mother immediately after birth. This kind of contact may decrease rapid breathing into the normal range and calm baby.
What is your experience with SSC? Have you done it? Will you do it?
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