Coming out of a major abdominal surgery might not seem like a time when you’re in your cuddliest mood. But when that surgery is to bring your newborn into the world, it can change your perspective. Aside from wanting to get a head-start on breathing in that new-baby smell, though, scientific evidence suggests that giving new moms and their little ones some skin-to-skin time can help improve the baby’s health and mood, reassure the new mom, and improve breastfeeding outcomes for moms who intend to breastfeed. It’s also a great way to get a head-start on bonding.
What skin-to-skin does
Skin-to-skin, sometimes called kangaroo care, means that a newborn is placed naked on the mother’s bare chest or upper abdomen, stomach down, as soon as possible after birth. The contact of skin against skin gives the newborn a guide to help regulate body temperature and breathing, and the exposure to mom’s scent can be a key part of early bonding. Skin-to-skin is recommended both by the World Health Organization and UNICEF – in cases of C-section births, their recommendations say skin-to-skin should happen as soon as the mother is alert and responsive after a C-section. C-sections have been shown to correlate with lower rates of breastfeeding, and early skin-to-skin also helps to mitigate some of that drop-off.
Skin-to-skin can also help improve immunity, as the baby is exposed to the mom’s skin flora, and its positive effects for breastfeeding increase as skin-to-skin time increases – the more of this early time parent and child have together, the more it can help.
Not all hospitals support skin-to-skin contact for parents immediately after a C-section, and of the hospitals and providers who are willing to facilitate it, only some do so routinely. This means that if you feel strongly about early skin-to-skin, even if you’re not planning on having a C-section, talking to your healthcare provider about it ahead of time can be helpful.
A Swedish study suggests that newborns can get most of the same benefits of early skin-to-skin contact by snuggling up to their non-gestational parent. Skin-to-skin with the parent who isn’t catching their breath after a major surgery still helps with the baby’s breath regulation, temperature regulation, and early bonding with a parent, as well as calmness and reduced crying. This alternative can be important for families who feel strongly about skin-to-skin because some hospitals either don’t feel comfortable placing the baby on mom’s chest as she’s being sewn back up, or worry that a new mom’s temperature when recovering from surgery might not be high enough to keep a newborn warm enough.
Especially in hospitals where skin-to-skin isn’t routine, fighting for it can feel harder than it should, but moms who get the chance for a little skin-to-skin bonding time after birth tend to feel better about their birth experiences in general, which is a feeling every new parent deserves.
- Kerstin Erlandsson, et al. “Skin-to-Skin Care with the Father after Cesarian Birth and its Effect on Newborn Crying and Prefeeding Behavior.” Birth: Issues in Perinatal Care.0.1111/j.1523-536X.2007.00162.x. Web. May 29 2007.
- “Strategy 1. Maternity Care Practices.” CDC. Center for Disease Control. Web.
- E.R. Moore, et al. “Early skin-to-skin contact for mothers and their healthy newborn infants.” Cochrane Database Syst Rev.Jul-Aug;38(4):430-42. Web. May 2012.
- A. Nolan and C. Lawrence. “A pilot study of nursing intervention protocol to minimize maternal-infant separation after Cesarean birth.” J Obstet Gynecol Neonatal Nurs. Jul-Aug;38(4):430-42. Web. 2009.
- J Stephens, et al. “Immediate or early skin-to-skin contact after a Cesarean section: a review of the literature.” Matern Child Nutr. 10(4):456-73. Web. Oct. 2014.
- Concepcion de Alba-Romera, et al. “Postcesarean Section Skin-to-Skin Contact of Mother and Child.” J Hum Lact. 30(3): 283-286. Web. August 2014.