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Importance of Skin-to-Skin Contact Between the Mother and the Newborn

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Immediately after birth, the baby is placed on the mother’s bare chest so that frontal body contact is skin-to-skin. Read the article to know the reason.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Faisal Abdul Karim Malim

Published At May 24, 2023
Reviewed AtNovember 20, 2023

What Is Skin-To-Skin Contact?

This is a practice in which a baby is dried and placed directly on their mother’s bare chest immediately after birth. Both the mother and child are then allowed to stay for at least an hour or after the first feeding with this contact covered in a warm blanket. Moreover, skin-to-skin contact also takes place at any time when the baby needs comfort and calm. Skin-to-skin contact is essential in neonatal care units, where skin-to-skin contact is often called kangaroo care. It helps the mother and father bond with their baby and helps in the baby's better physical and developmental outcomes.

What Are the Benefits of Skin-To-Skin Contact?

There is growing evidence that proves skin-to-skin contact between mother and newborn baby has numerous protective effects, such as the following;

  • It calms and relaxes the mother and baby.

  • Newborns with skin-to-skin contact tend to cry less.

  • It regulates the heart rate and breathing of the newborn, which helps them to better adapt to the womb environment.

  • It also stimulates digestion.

  • It stimulates interest in breastfeeding.

  • It regulates the temperature of the baby.

  • It enables the colonization of mother’s friendly bacteria on the baby’s skin which provides immunity against infection.

  • It stimulates the release of hormones in mothers that support breastfeeding. Moreover, it improves milk volume that contains the most up-to-date antibodies, thus further improving the development of immunity in children.

  • It improves the oxygen saturation of children in neonatal care units.

  • It helps reduce stress (cortisol) levels in babies in neonatal care after painful procedures.

  • It encourages the pre-feeding behavior of the newborn in neonatal care.

  • It assists with the growth of the baby.

  • It may reduce hospital stays, especially for babies in neonatal care units.

What Are the Steps of Safe Skin-To-Skin Contact?

The followings are the points to consider for safe skin-to-skin contact for both the mother and the newborn, especially for the first hour after birth;

  • The first step is to make sure of the comfortable position of the mother in a semi-reclined position and support under the arms.

  • After drying the infant, lift the newborn gently to avoid any compression on the thorax while placing the baby for skin-to-skin contact. Put the baby in a position on the mother's bare chest so that the head of the newborn is above the breast.

  • Drape the baby and mother with a dry blanket leaving the baby’s face visible.

  • The mother's breast, body, or blanket should not obscure the nose and mouth of the newborn infant initially; the head of the baby should be placed toward the side.

  • The position of the baby must allow the baby to use its reflexes of lifting the head so that the baby can free the nose and mouth, especially if the mother’s breasts are large and very soft.

  • The breast nipple should be accessible to the newborn. In some situations, this may require placing a towel or pillow on the side or under the mother's breast.

  • The parents must secure the free airways of the baby during the time the newborn starts searching for the breast.

  • Parents must focus on the newborn and follow the early behavior of the newborn to make sure safety for the baby while skin to skin contact. Moreover, parents should not get distracted by mobile phones or other things.

  • The other parent or family member must provide extra attention for the safety of the baby if the mother is under sedation after childbirth and also during postpartum suturing.

  • Labor medications may also affect newborns by hampering their reflexes. Thus it may prevent the ability of the newborns to lift their heads to protect themselves from suffocation. Hence, constant monitoring of the babies affected by labor medications is essential.

How Skin-to-Skin Contact Benefits the Mother and the Baby?

For the newborn, much of the physiological responses to the skin-to-skin contact shortly after birth, including stabilization of heart rate, respiration, temperature, and digestive functioning, are primarily due to oxytocin which also provides anti-stress effects.

  • Role of Oxytocin: Oxytocin is a hormone and neurotransmitter which plays a major role in the development of the relationship between mother and newborn. In the brain, the hypothalamus part produces oxytocin, which then releases it into blood circulation. Oxytocin decreases the activity of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis, which in turn reduces stress by lowering levels of stress hormone cortisol. In addition, the autonomic nervous system activity shift induces calmness. Gentle stimulations of sensory nerves, especially in the chest area, activates oxytocin release. Touch, warmth, and gentle pressure during skin-to-skin contact boosts oxytocin level. Moreover, breastfeeding also increases oxytocin level. In skin-to-skin contact, a boost of oxytocin in one member of the duo influences increases oxytocin in the other, and thus their responses become synchronized, which facilitates social connectedness. The pattern of these effects associated with skin-to-skin contact suggests their mediation by oxytocin.

  • Role of Smell: The mother is attracted to the smell of the newborn, which facilitates chemical communication between the two. Hence, a new mother's skin-to-skin contact with a newborn’s bare head provides the smell of the baby. This induces the early mutual biological relationship between mother and newborn. In addition, the newborn has higher levels of catecholamine hormone immediately after vaginal birth and for the first thirty minutes. This hormone strengthens the memory and learning of the baby. Thus, the higher early sensitivity for the breast milk odor, in the presence of higher catecholamine, indicates a physiologically based period of early sensitivity in the newborn infant.

Conclusion

Skin-to-skin contact between the mother and the newborn has numerous benefits to both, which may help set the relationship between both on a positive trajectory. Oxytocin release due to such contact stimulates a nurturing effect at the beginning of their relationship. In addition, such repeated exposure to oxytocin by tactile contact and breastfeeding may also influence changes in stress reactivity in the long term. Early effects of oxytocin conditions sustain advantages at both physiological and behavioral levels. However, parents should do this practice very carefully by taking all the above-described precocious measures to ensure the safety of both the newborn and the mother.

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Dr. Faisal Abdul Karim Malim
Dr. Faisal Abdul Karim Malim

Pediatrics

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