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Why skin-to-skin contact is important

Read on to learn about skin-to-skin contact, how to practice it, and how it may benefit you and your baby.

Skin-to-skin contact, also called kangaroo care, helps babies adjust to life outside the womb, helping them feel safe and loved. 

Both moms and dads can practice skin-to-skin contact, starting as soon as your baby is born and continuing during infancy.

What is skin-to-skin contact?

The first time you lock eyes with your baby is an exciting and memorable experience. You’ll find yourself analysing every detail of their face, smelling them, and reassuring them with your words and affection.

All of these behaviours aid in the bonding process in the minutes, hours, and days following your baby’s birth, but did you know that skin-to-skin contact is also vital during this time? 

Skin-to-skin contact involves laying your practically naked baby (possibly wearing just a nappy and beanie) on your bare chest, skin to skin, with a blanket, robe, or shirt wrapped around you and your baby’s back for extra warmth.

When can you start skin-to-skin contact?

Both mom and dad can practise skin-to-skin contact immediately or shortly after your baby is born.

In some cases, such as after a caesarean section, an episiotomy, or if your infant requires medical attention, skin-to-skin contact may be delayed. However, the medical staff may still allow you to hold your baby’s hand or hover your palm over their head, so they know you’re there. 

When your baby is ready, you’ll be able to have plenty of skin-to-skin time.

What are the benefits of skin-to-skin contact for you and your baby?

Skin-to-skin contact after birth is becoming more widespread in hospitals across South Africa as the benefits become more well known.

Here are some of the main advantages of skin-to-skin contact:

  • Maintains body temperature: Your body transforms into a natural incubator, regulating itself based on your baby’s temperature requirements. 
  • Stabilises your baby’s respiration, heartbeat, and other functions: Skin-to-skin contact can aid in regulating your baby’s respiration and heartbeat, stabilising their blood sugar levels, and promoting sleep. It may also be beneficial to the baby’s cognitive development.
  • Reduces crying: Skin-to-skin contact can make your baby feel more at ease, helping to reduce crying.
  • Encourages bonding: Both moms and dads release hormones such as oxytocin, prolactin, and endorphins during skin-to-skin contact. These hormones aid in emotional bonding with your baby and elicit strong feelings of love and protectiveness. 
  • Reduces the likelihood of postpartum depression: According to research, skin-to-skin contact can help minimise the risk of postpartum depression and relieve tension and anxiety.
  • Encourages the production of breast milk: Research has shown that newborns who have extended skin-to-skin contact with their mothers are far more likely to nurse successfully.

The bottom Line 

Skin-to-skin contact or kangaroo care is an excellent approach to bond with your newborn after birth. It facilitates emotional connection while providing physical benefits such as regulating your baby’s heart rate and temperature and flooding your body with feel-good hormones such as oxytocin and endorphins. Kangaroo care can assist in stimulating breastfeeding if you intend to do so.

In most circumstances, skin-to-skin contact can be practised immediately or shortly after giving birth. Having this intimate contact within the first hour following birth is hugely beneficial.

Because childbirth does not always go as planned, it’s important to note that in some situations, such as if you’ve had a caesarean section or an episiotomy, you may need to wait a little longer before having skin-to-skin contact.

If your infant needs immediate medical attention or monitoring, skin-to-skin contact may be delayed for a short period. Try not to be concerned about these possible circumstances. You can practise skin-to-skin contact at home in the coming days, weeks, and months. You and your partner will create strong relationships with your child before you know it.

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