Skin-to-skin is the practice of holding a newborn baby close to the mother or the father, where both, the caregiver and the baby, are bare chested and usually a thin cloth is used to cover them. While this practice is often seen while caring for preterm babies in the initial phase of their life outside the womb, it is also very beneficial while caring for full term, healthy babies.This practice, though age old in many cultures, is becoming popular amongst caregivers in the recent years because of its many benefits to both, the baby and the parents, especially mothers.
Babies cannot control their body temperatures soon after birth. Holding them close to one’s body helps regulate their temperatures as well as their heartbeat. It is believed that the mother’s heartbeat and breathing patterns are familiar to the baby and this helps the baby transition from the atmosphere and security of the womb to the outside world with the least amount of stress and thereby reducing episodes of crying and discomfort. A study shows that skin-to-skin for atleast 3 hours a day can reduce infant crying by almost 43%. This, in turn, reduces stress levels for the caregiver as well as the baby. Skin-to-skin practice is believed to calm the baby and help him/her fall asleep easier and also sleep for longer hours, thus helping the mental and physical development during the initial days of life outside the womb.
Soon after birth, a mother’s body goes through many changes. This is both, an exhilarating and at the same time exhausting period for the new mother. Many a times, establishing breastfeeding can be a challenge. Skin-to-skin helps the mother’s body regulate the milk supply as per the demands and needs of her baby, thus reducing lactation and latching on problems.
The hour following the birth of a baby is called the ‘golden hour’ where, if the mother and baby are allowed to follow skin-to-skin, the mother’s body secretes happy hormones which greatly helps in the initial bonding between the mother and baby. It is also believed that this bonding and hormone release helps reduce the chances of postpartum depression in mothers.
While the benefits of this practice are immense for the bonding between the baby and the mother, it is believed to be the same for the baby to bond with the father too. A baby, though born from the womb of the mother, can develop a strong bonding with the father in the initial days in the outside world and feel as secure and safe with the other parent too. This not only helps the family bond as one, but it can also give some much needed rest to the mother so that her body adjusts to the changes happening inside as well as around her. This leads to her feeling happier, healthier and stress free which in turn helps her produce more milk for the baby too. In the long run, it is believed that babies who experienced this special bonding with their parents grow up to be more emotionally secure and independent adults.
I have personally seen first hand the benefits of skin-to-skin bonding. I was not aware about it when my elder child was born and we had quite a few days of crying, colic and exhaustion. However, I did follow it during the initial period with my second born. What I noticed was, he was a lot calmer, had much lesser colic problems than his brother did and he also shares a deep bond with his father. So all you to be and new parents out there, go ahead and give it a try. Holding and breathing in the scents of a newborn baby held close to you is guaranteed to give you extreme happiness and all the benefits that come free along with it will just be the cherry on the top!