I have seen way too many movies. But nothing is more emotionally dramatic than the moment a mom meets her baby for the first time. The uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact that we, nurses, oblige is almost a sacred moment in the delivery room. It’s touching to see a mother’s tears of pain turn into tears of joy as she finally holds her little bundle.
A mother’s caress means the world to a newborn child. So as he breathes his first air, the nurses do not delay a moment laying him on his mom’s chest. It may seem simple; maybe it’s no big deal if you don’t hold your baby enough? But studies show that depriving babies of touch will make them suffer from developmental and growth delay. It may also affect the maturity of your baby according to the University of British Columbia and BC Children’s Research Institute. Contrarily, holding your baby has lots of potential benefits that both moms and babies can get. Read on to learn why.
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Uninterrupted Skin-to-Skin Contact
Uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact is a manner where the baby is laid on his mother’s chest right after birth. The gesture is used to introduce the baby to breastfeeding. The World Health Organization encourages at least 90 minutes of skin-to-skin baby and mother contact.
This is also known as kangaroo care. Kangaroo care may also refer to the practice of various skin-to-skin positions in taking care of a baby. It may include breastfeeding on the arms or cheek to belly contact among others.
A gentle touch is what the baby needs to welcome him into this world. If your baby is born premature, the more that you need to spend time offering him a touch of reassurances. It can do so much in helping him transition into this world from his mom’s tummy. Some 30 to 60 minutes of kangaroo care for preemies will make breastfeeding easier. It will also offer your newborn comfort and make him feel your love.
Benefits of Kangaroo Care
The primary goal of skin-to-skin contact is to help your baby get physically ready for breastfeeding. It will help your baby adapt to his new environment. At the same time, it will enable the mom to relax after the ordeal of birthing.
Some hospitals are now adapting both kangaroo care and breastfeeding as two crucial newborn care interventions. However, though breastfeeding is globally promoted, skin-to-skin contact is not widely practiced.
There are still hospitals that do not give mothers and newborns longer cuddle time. As such, some babies may miss out on this opportunity.
Promotes Maternal Attachment
Moms would agree about the stress that childbirth can bring. Where I trained, the cacophony of crying moms and babies are no match. Unfortunately, a mother’s stress does not stop there. There’s the danger of post-partum depression that she may go through along the way.
In a study published by the International Journal of Nursing Sciences, the relationship between kangaroo care and post-partum depression was explored. Accordingly, kangaroo care triggers the release of oxytocin or the “cuddle” hormone. This hormone decreases the risk of depressive symptoms and stress in mothers.
As a result, the mom will improve her bonding with her baby and develop her maternal closeness.
Promotes Brain Development
Introducing the baby to his family for the first hour of his life is crucial to brain development. The release of oxytocin not only reduces stress, but also stimulates the baby’s brain. Surprisingly, a simple touch is enough to boost his neurodevelopment. It will make your infant more biologically mature and it is a long term benefit that he will reap in the future.
Increases Breastfeeding Rate
Holding your baby close promotes attachment with your baby. The unique closeness and bond will stimulate your maternal hormones. This, in turn, will help in increasing breast milk production.
When compared with a swaddled baby, babies in kangaroo care will also feed longer. That’s because babies in swaddles get too cozy and sleepy. The skin-to-skin contact will facilitate the exchange of sensory information between mom and baby to make breastfeeding more satisfying.
Manages Separation Anxiety
Mothers, especially those with preterm babies, have so much to handle in their hands. It often bolsters psychological and mental stress. Having to wait a little longer for your baby to come home can become frustrating.
Fortunately, kangaroo care, which is encouraged especially in NICU, helps moms get through this anxiety. Mom’s touch is almost magical that can help the baby get through this phase the soonest. It may even help moms deal with the physical pain that she is experiencing.
Provides Physiologic Stability
When the doctor pulls the baby out of his mom, he’s probably wailing his heart out. But put him in his mother’s chest. The crying will decrease and he will sooner show interest in feeding.
Skin-to-skin contact is beneficial for improving your baby’s physiological stability. It will help stabilize your baby’s heart rate right after birth. It improves his breathing pattern to properly distribute oxygen in his organs and tissues. Kangaroo care can even hasten the hospital discharge of premature babies.
Effects of Not Holding your Baby Enough
With all these benefits of skin-to-skin contact, we all would agree to promote the practice. Sadly, not all babies can benefit from it. As I have mentioned, some hospitals do not care enough about prolonged skin contact.
The WHO encourages at least 90 minutes of contact. In some public birthing hospitals, this is not always possible. There is a rush to wheel the mother into the recovery room and the baby into the nursery. When there is a queue of mothers in the labor room, there is almost no time for waiting.
Here are some of the latent effects of not holding your baby enough:
- Behavioral problems later in life
- Emotional and social problems
- Breastfeeding and lactation problems
- Increased stress
- Developmental and growth delay
- Biological immaturity
Sometimes, some mothers are not medically allowed to do the kangaroo care spot on. When there is a need to bring mom to the ICU and resuscitate her, the baby may miss this opportunity. Gladly, it’s not only the mom who can offer this to the baby. Other family members can also give the warmth of their welcome to their new family addition.
How long should I do the skin-to-skin contact?
The World Health Organization promotes at least 90 minutes of uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact. It should start immediately after birth. You can do kangaroo care at least once or twice a day or as long as your baby can tolerate it. Holding your baby longer can give him better benefits.
Are there any things I should do while doing kangaroo care?
The skin-to-skin contact should be a quiet moment to bond with your baby. You can supplement holding your baby with some reassuring gestures. Use this time to talk to your baby, sing to him, or read him a book. If your baby is in the NICU and is still hooked to tubes, the more that you need to show him extra love and care.
Avoid rocking your baby fast, watching TV, or going over your phone while doing skin-to-skin contact. Make this a sacred routine for your little one until he resists it. You can also encourage him to make an eye-to-eye contact as you do.
When should I stop doing kangaroo care?
You can hold your baby for as long as he can tolerate it. Mostly, it can last for about 12 weeks. That’s because your baby will begin to develop an interest in other things. Cuddle time gets shorter as he begins to move around a lot. If you are breastfeeding, you can offer this chance to him longer.
Can I let my baby sleep on my chest?
If the parent is awake, letting the baby sleep on their chest is valuable. However, they should see to it that the baby does not go unattended even for a minute. Cot death or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is at its highest risk if the baby is sleeping on his stomach by himself.
Read why you cannot let your newborn sleep on their stomach for more information.
How can I hold my baby if he has a breathing tube?
Do not move your baby without a nurse’s assistance if your baby is still in a breathing tube. If you need to change your position somewhere during the kangaroo care, don’t hesitate to call the NICU staff. They will be checking the breathing tube every time they move the baby. They should also be the ones to put your baby back to position after the skin-to-skin contact.
A simple gesture it may seem, but offering your baby a gentle touch will not only soothe him for a short time. It has lots of benefits that he can take with him as he grows up. Even if he is not crying, giving reassuring touches can do so much to make your baby feel your love and warmth.
Holding your baby will not spoil him. Eventually, he will resist it as he begins to explore the world around him. So take your time to hold your baby longer until he won’t let you anymore.
If you have any thoughts about skin-to-skin baby contact, we would love to hear your piece. Comment down and tell us how you get it to work better. Did science prove it good enough for you?
Ann Marie is a licensed nurse in the Philippines. She had experiences in handling and assisting deliveries of newborns into the world. She also used to train in labor rooms and pediatric wards – helping soon-to-be mothers and little kids in the process. Though not a mother by nature but a mother by heart, Ann Marie loves to take care of her younger cousins as well as nephews and nieces during her free time.