Placing your baby skin-to-skin on your body has been scientifically proven to be one of the best things you can do.
How can something so simple be so effective? The data has convinced leading organizations to recommend skin-to-skin contact, among them the World Health Organization, American Academy of Pediatrics, Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine and the Neonatal Resuscitation Program.
The first inclination that this practice could be revolutionary evolved in South America in the 1970s. Two physicians in Bogotá, Colombia, didn’t have enough incubators to care for all the premature babies in their hospital. So, they placed these tiny naked babies directly on their mothers’ bodies with both mother and baby covered by an exterior wrap, allowing the mom’s body heat to warm the baby.
The babies thrived. The doctors named their technique the kangaroo mother method. The kangaroo mother method also includes breastfeeding instruction and support as well as earlier discharges from the hospital.
Later, this term was shortened to kangaroo care and has been associated primarily with the skin-to-skin aspect.
Benefits of kangaroo care
Numerous research studies have found benefit after benefit from spending time with your newborn in skin-to-skin contact. This sharing of love and touch helps by:
- Decreasing stress in both baby and parents
- Allowing you to learn about each other through touch, sight, smell and hearing
- Promoting bonding and breastfeeding
- Stabilizing baby’s body temperature, heartbeat, breathing and blood oxygen levels
- Strengthening baby’s digestion and immune systems
- Encouraging baby to spend more time in deep sleep and quiet alert states
- Producing a stronger milk supply in breastfeeding moms
- Reducing postpartum bleeding in moms
If the mother and the infant are healthy enough, providing skin-to-skin care soon after birth is encouraged to promote breastfeeding and infant-parent bonding.
NICU babies and kangaroo care
Unfortunately, not all mothers and infants are healthy or stable enough to provide skin-to-skin care right after birth. Sometimes, alternative practices need to substitute for this care:
- Pumping breastmilk to provide to the child helps promote bonding and nutrition.
- Providing cloth or clothing with the scent of the parent helps the infant experience the smells of the parent until skin-to-skin care can be accomplished.
- Parents can touch their infant with their hand or have the infant hold the parent’s finger, too. This provides some bonding and touch between both individuals which can help alleviate some stress.
It is never too late to provide skin-to-skin care. When your medical team says that the parent and the infant are stable enough for skin-to-skin care, then the care can begin, even in the NICU.
Partners join in on skin-to-skin
All parents should provide skin-to-skin care since all parents need to bond with their newborn infant.
In an exclusively breastfed infant, it’s important for the caregiver who does not provide the feeding to schedule some dedicated time during the day to provide skin-to-skin care. Just 10 or 15 minutes daily can benefit you and your baby.
This is an opportunity for parents to be calm and present with their child. The comforting presence of the newborn is healthy for the parent and relieves the stresses that go along with the incredible life change that has occurred in the family.
Practice skin-to-skin at home
The most opportune time for parents and babies to participate in skin-to-skin care is at feeding time.
Breastfeeding is an excellent time and method for providing skin-to-skin care with your newborn. At times when bottle feeding is needed, skin-to-skin time can also be provided during and after feeding.
For safety reasons, you need to be awake and mentally present with your infant during skin-to-skin care.
You should be watching and supporting your infant while they are on your skin. If you are too tired to stay awake, then you should place your baby in their crib or bassinet, and you should get some much-needed sleep as well.
The medical community continues to learn more and more about the benefits of skin-to-skin care. This simple technique provides benefits and bonding for parent and child and should be encouraged for moms, dads and infants.
Medical review by JoLyn Seitz, M.D., an obstetrician and gynecologist at Sanford Health in Bemidji, Minnesota, and Stephen Messier, M.D., medical director of the Sanford Boekelheide Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
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