Why Skin to Skin Contact After Birth Matters

Kangaroo care, also known as skin to skin contact, is highly recommended by organizations like WHO and the AAP - and provides tons of benefits to both you and your baby! Here's what happens and why you should ensure your desire for skin to skin is clearly communicated in your birth plan.

Kangaroo Care – Also Known as Skin to Skin Contact – Benefits You and Baby

As you’re drafting your birth plan, one of the most important things to remember is the incredible value of skin to skin contact after birth. Be sure your request for skin to skin contact is clearly represented somewhere in your birth plan or vocalized to your healthcare providers before or during labor to ensure they know your wishes and understand that you’d like this critical experience with your baby. Skin to skin contact after birth – where your newborn baby is gently placed belly-down on your chest immediately following delivery – is recommended by both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Generally, your doctor, midwife, or a nurse will dry off your little one, put a warm hat and blanket on him or her, and then help you get your baby nestled onto your bare chest. Those first cuddles will take place before any testing that your baby will receive in the hours after birth, unless your healthcare provider has a reason to request that certain examinations be performed right away.  

Not only do these close moments of bonding allow you and your baby to begin getting to know each other right away, but research shows a number of noted benefits like:

  • Calmer, More Relaxed Mom and Baby: Let’s face it, Mama, the transition from your warm, cozy belly to the outside world is a tough one for any newborn! Skin to skin contact after birth can help your baby regulate their body temperature and soothes them, so they are calmer and may cry less (but remember, all newborn babies cry!). There is also evidence that skin to skin contact can increase your baby’s blood oxygen levels, promote deeper and more restful sleep, and lead to a stronger immune system and more stable heartbeat and breathing. This is because cortisol, or stress hormones, are significantly lower after even just 20 minutes of skin to skin contact.

    On the same hand, research also shows that moms who have skin to skin contact with their little one immediately following delivery experience reduced postpartum bleeding and have a lower risk of developing postpartum depression. When holding your newborn skin to skin, oxytocin levels increase – which in turn reduces blood pressure and stress.
  • Breastfeeding Initiation: Skin to skin contact after birth is especially important for initiating breastfeeding as soon as possible. This is because babies who have skin to skin contact following delivery often have less difficulty latching, are able to begin nursing sooner, breastfeed better, and even continue nursing for an average of about 6 weeks longer! By being close to you, your baby can smell and recognize your scent, making it easier for him or her to find your nipple and nurse as needed.

On rare occasions, such as if your baby needs to go to the NICU or if you need extra care as a result of delivery, skin to skin contact after birth may not be possible right away. With that in mind, it’s still important to have skin to skin contact as soon and as often as possible. Kangaroo care can significantly reduce challenges often associated with premature babies, such as lowered immune systems, higher stress levels, and feeding difficulties. If you need extra care after delivery and are unable to have skin to skin contact right away, request that your partner or a support person does this instead for the time being. Not only will your little one receive many of the same benefits, but it’s a great way for your partner to bond with him or her right away too!

Best of all, skin to skin contact isn’t just for the hours and days immediately following delivery – Keep practicing it after you go home and for as long as both you and your baby enjoy it. Many parents find that having skin to skin time in a quiet, dimly-lit room with their baby – dressed in a diaper – on their chest for at least 20 minutes can promote breastfeeding, relaxation, bonding, and comfort. No matter what your breast milk feeding journey looks like, be sure to enjoy the closeness and intimacy that skin to skin contact after birth can bring both you and your little one – your baby will grow quickly and this time will pass before you know it!