Importance of Skin-to-Skin Contact and Breastfeeding
During pregnancy, babies are as close to their mothers as they can possibly be, receiving all the necessary things to keep them protected, receiving warmth, food, and oxygen from their mother.
Once they are born, they are abrupt without these essential needs. Placing these infants skin-to-skin with their mothers immediately decreases their stress level and places them back as closely as possible to that warm protected environment to which they have become accustomed.
If possible, mothers and infants should be left skin-to-skin for at least the first 1 to 2 hours after birth. Skin-to-skin contact has a positive impact on maternal/infant bonding and can regulate the baby’s temperature, breathing, heart rate and blood sugar. It can also calm a crying baby. This skin-to-skin contact also facilitates early release of hormones that help your colostrum to flow more freely. It also lowers the risk of developing post-partum depression.
Infants should be placed on mother’s chest completely naked or with just a diaper on to facilitate this skin-to-skin contact. When infants are held skin-to-skin with their arms and hands-free to move, they can feel their mother’s skin and are able to guide themselves to her breast. Their hands also provide stimulation to your breast, which in turn causes the release of hormones that play a very important role in baby development.
For example, when prolactin is released it produces a substance that helps the baby’s lungs breathe easier. Oxytocin doubles as a messenger to the brain to produce milk and to cause another chemical (cholecystokinin) to be released in the milk that calms the baby and helps him self-regulate his digestion.
Just holding your infant skin-to-skin will facilitate a greater milk supply because the infant is more likely to nurse more often if he is frequently held skin-to-skin. The more the baby eats, the greater the milk supply.
It’s important also to try and make the practice of skin-to-skin into a family affair. Often, fathers can feel left out of the newborn birth and post-birth experience. When mothers need a break, they can hand their little one over to the father, who can also hold infant skin-to-skin, encouraging a positive effect on fathers bonding with their little ones.
Remember that having early skin-to-skin contact has a positive effect on the bonding between mothers and infants and the early initiation of breastfeeding – as well as the continuation of breastfeeding for many months and up to at least one year after birth.
These suggestions and others regarding skin-to-skin are backed up by studies. According to Unicef, a 20-year follow-up study of the impact of skin-to-skin contact on preterm and low birth weight babies found significant long-lasting social and behavioral protective effects even 20 years later. The positive effects of skin-to-skin contact at one year on IQ and home environment were still present 20 years later in the most fragile babies, shown by reduced school absenteeism and reduced hyperactivity, aggressiveness and socio-deviant conduct of young adults.
Lompoc Valley Medical Center promotes the idea of skin-to-skin contact with mothers and infants to facilitate early bonding and the early initiation of breastfeeding. We strongly support breastfeeding for our mothers in the community by offering a Breastfeeding Mothers Support Group from 10 am to 11 am every Friday.