Skin to skin (alternatively called kangaroo care or kangaroo mother care) might be one of the best things to learn about before having a baby. Most new and expectant parents have heard something about skin to skin and, thankfully, many care providers and birth settings now promote the practice. However, the benefits of skin to skin care are not often discussed in depth.
So, what exactly is skin to skin? How is it done? And why does it matter?
Essentially, skin to skin care is the practice of keeping baby free of clothing on their caregivers’ bare skin. Baby can remain in a diaper, but should not have anything else covering them, besides a blanket over top of their body.
Nils Bergman, the leading expert on Kangaroo Mother Care, offers the following recommendations for skin to skin, across a variety of time frames. He suggests skin to skin for the first 1,000 seconds or the first hour of life, if possible. Then as continuously as possible across the first 1,000 minutes, or the first day and night of life. And as often as possible across the first 1,000 hours, or 6 weeks or life. Within those time guidelines, skin to skin should last as long as caregivers and the baby are enjoying it or it is practical to do so.
There are a myriad of benefits of skin to skin for parents and babies. Here are some of the key ones:
- Bonding and feeling good. Skin to skin facilitates the release of oxytocin and endorphins, which help us feel good! Oxytocin is also the hormone involved in bonding. By facilitating the release of oxytocin, parents are able to encourage that ferocious protectiveness that we need to care for our children. Other adults – father or partner, and even grandparents – will achieve this incredible rewiring of their brain to become attached to their baby, if they too engage in skin to skin care.
- Body regulation, tuning in, and physical growth. Keeping babies skin to skin helps babies regulate their heart rate, breathing, temperature, and glucose levels. By having these essential functions regulated by their parent’s body, they are able to dedicate energy to growing and gaining weight. Skin to skin also helps parents become more attuned to their babies cues – feeding, diapering, and otherwise.
- Immunity and gut health. Keeping babies skin to skin, particularly immediately after birth, helps build baby’s’ immunity and gut health. They become exposed to their own parents’ bacteria, which are the best germs for them!
- Comfort and Less Crying! Skin to skin helps parents create an environment for their baby that is safe and familiar. Babies recognize and are soothed by their parent’s (particularly their mother’s) smell, heart beat and warmth. This comfort allows for a more easeful transition to the world. Amazingly, it has also been proven that skin to skin allows for a reduction in pain for babies, when routine procedures, such as blood work or vaccinations, take place. And wonderfully, babies who have their needs met and are close to their parents regularly, seem, to cry less across daily periods.
- Breastfeeding. If you’re choosing to breastfeed, skin to skin is a must to start you off on great footing. Skin to skin will increase your prolactin levels – the hormone that plays a huge role in helping your body make milk. Additionally, latching a baby for feeding, whether on day one or onwards, is often easier when skin to skin is happening.
- Rest and Recovery. Laying down with your baby, for the first 6 weeks, and onwards, gives you the space to allow your body to recover. Birth, and caring for a baby, is an incredible amount of work and rest is vital to ensure you’re best able to care for your baby. Nature is extremely smart – babies want to be held and sleep on their parents, which helps encourage parents to take the time to rest themselves.
Skin to skin might be one of the best things you can do for yourself and your baby. These little ones grow up so very quickly – enjoy these moments when they stay still and you’re able to rest yourself.