Why All Breastfeeding Moms Should Advocate for Skin-to-Skin Contact
Skin-to-Skin contact involves placing an undressed newborn right on a mother’s bare chest immediately following birth. The baby can be washed or unwashed and should be naked aside from a diaper or hat.
This precious bonding time allows for mothers and babies to breathe in each other’s scents, lower each other’s heart rates, and warm up together. Skin-to-skin care (or kangaroo care) also opens up the window for a mother to initiate her first breast-feed, and has shown to have a positive effect on long-term breastfeeding habits.
Global women’s health organizations are urging hospitals to adopt skin-to-skin as more research shows the vital link between this sacred time and a positive post-partum experience.
UNICEF and the World Health Organization outline guidelines for skin-to-skin care in their Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative:
"The goal for early initiation should be that newborns are placed skin-to-skin within minutes of birth, remaining for 60 minutes or longer, with all mothers encouraged to support the infant to breastfeed when their babies show signs of readiness."
The Science Behind Skin-to-Skin
The US National Institute of Health explains:
"The sensitive period during the first hour or so after birth is significantly influenced by elevated levels of the maternal reproductive hormone, oxytocin, which crosses the placenta to her baby. Oxytocin, which increases significantly during skin-to-skin care, promotes maternal/newborn attachment, reduces maternal and newborn stress, and helps the newborn transition to postnatal life."
Oxytocin (nicknamed the love hormone) plays a vital role in initiating and maintaining the bond between individuals. Crucially, it can combat postpartum depression and jumpstart a mother’s feeling of closeness with her child.
Breastfeeding mothers should use the first hour of skin-to-skin to initiate the first feed. Once a baby displays hunger cues (puckering their lips, moving their head from side to side) they should be placed on the breast and the feed can begin. The first feed will only be drops of colostrum (aka liquid gold!) but these drops of liquid are filled with immune boosting components. Skin-to-skin allows for a woman to gracefully transition into this new role as a breastfeeding mother.
Long-Term Breastfeeding Benefits of Skin-to-Skin Contact
Just how important is immediate skin-to-skin time for long-term breastfeeding success?
A 2003 study with 3,472 mother-baby pairs in 21 countries found that immediate skin-to-skin (versus standard hospital practices) had a positive effect on breastfeeding rates overall.
- Women who had skin-to-skin contact with their babies were more likely to be breastfeeding one to four months after giving birth. Breastfeeding rates were 67% versus 54% for women without skin-to-skin contact, (risk ratio [RR] 1.24, 95%)
- Women who underwent a cesarean procedure and had skin-to-skin contact with their babies were also more likely to be breastfeeding one to four months after giving birth (95% CI 1.04 to 1.44). However, the small sample (220 mother-baby pairs) limits confidence in these results.
- The heart and breathing rates were more stable in babies who had skin-to-skin contact. They were also less likely to have low blood sugar levels.
How to Advocate for Skin-to-Skin
More hospitals and medical facilities are recognizing the positive benefits of skin-to-skin. But mothers still need to advocate for this time with their newborn. Here are a few strategies to ensure that skin-to-skin remains a priority in your delivery plan:
1. During your hospital walkthrough ask how they handle the immediate hour after birth. Make sure to ask about what happens after a cesarean (even if it isn’t in your plan, just in case) as well.
2. Include skin-to-skin in your birth plan. Don’t have a formal plan? When you and your partner are talking about plans for the hospital or birthing center, tell them your preference for skin-to-skin contact.
3. Remind your family or over-eager mother-in-law that they will need to wait to see the baby until at least an hour after birth. Setting these boundaries early will keep feelings from being hurt on the day of delivery.
4. During labor find a nurse ally. Look them in the eye and tell them that skin-to-skin is important to you. Trust us, once things get too intense (or the epidural kicks in) it’s easy to let this slip from your mind. Ask them to vocalize your preferences to all staff in the room.
The Magic Behind The First Time You Can Bond With Your Baby
Hear from mothers firsthand on their experience with skin-to-skin contact and how it shaped their breastfeeding journey.
“With my first baby, I didn’t get to do skin to skin right away because she had meconium in her amniotic fluid and she had to be whisked away. With my second baby, not only did I get to pull her out during birth but then she was immediately put on me for skin to skin time. It was the best feeling ever. She sat on me for probably two hours before they even cleaned or weighed her. She nursed after about an hour and was so natural at it. I think the skin to skin time is so important for moms and babies and so special.” -Adrienne C.
“I don’t think that I wore a shirt for the first 12+ hours after my daughter was born! She was so happy and content on my chest, and nursed for like 40 minutes on her first latch! This was after she had been held by a few people, so when she got back to me she didn’t want to be anywhere else.” -Katie L.
“We did about five hours skin to skin. We were both sweating. Lol! But it was amazing. I got my milk a day and a half later! With my firstborn, I only did skin to skin for about 40 minutes and it took three and a half days for my milk to come in. So yes I do think it played a role in helping my supply.” -Tanya
“My baby girl was only put on my chest for a couple of seconds before she was taken to the NICU for breathing issues. So I could not breastfeed her for 24 hours. I pumped instead and my husband called using FaceTime to show me my baby and colostrum just started flowing (and I started crying! Lol!) The lactation consultant suggested that moms in my situation do this. She is healthy now and breastfeeding is going well!” -Emily M.
“Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do skin to skin with my baby due to the need to have an unplanned c-section. My husband has skin to skin with the baby which was great, but I really regret not having that experience. Consequently, my baby struggled with breastfeeding for the first two weeks. I do believe that not having the skin to skin and immediate breastfeeding with me may have been a factor in our difficulties.” -Casey F.
“Skin to skin is the best! Not only is it a great way to connect right after birth, but I also used it with both of my babies to calm them when they were infants. It also definitely helped with breastfeeding. My husband LOVED skin to skin with both babies as well. It helped him to not only feel bonded to them but also to be a part of the whole birth experience.” -Nique M.
“I got to do skin to skin right after birth and then as much as possible when in the hospital. I feel that it did help with my supply and just being able to bond with my newborn. My husband also did skin to skin as well to help him bond with our daughter.” -Kelsey
“Skin to skin helped so much with breastfeeding my son! He latched on easily and after we did skin to skin my husband also did it. We continued skin to skin and even do it now when he is overly fussy to keep him calm and to comfort him.” -Aly
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