p.s. sorry for the emotional whiplash in my last post. I'll have to be more careful from now on!
So a little while ago Tamie asked me to do a post explaining how skin to skin contact with a newborn works. How it's a good thing. She said, "Hey Mel, could you do a post sometime on the skin-to-skin thing? It just makes sense to me on a gut level, but I don't know about any of the physiological reasons for it. Thanks!"
I know that skin to skin works, and I know the basics of how it works. But this topic is smack dab in the middle of my mom's extensive expertise on human lactation, so I figured it might be better to outsource this question, rather than muddle it up with my own explanations. My mom was gracious enough to reply with a dissertation length essay on the topic. No, I'm joking! She actually packed a ton of information into just a few paragraphs. Here is what she had to say. And many thanks to my mom for taking the time.
How skin to skin cuddles with babies works:
1. promotes mother/baby bonding.
When ever two people hug, especially chest to chest, oxytocin is released
from the brains of both parties. This hormone is called the "love" hormone
as it produces feeling of pleasure, contentment and happiness. When an
infant is skin to skin on mom's chest, both mother and baby are flooded
with these feelings - thus strengthening the bond between them. This
hormone also causes the "let down" during breastfeeding which enables
the milk to flow. It has recently been discovered that this hug/oxytocin
reaction happens any time 2 people hug - friends, lovers, parent/child.
Amazing! (ps, also released during orgasm)
2. increases prolactin levels in mother.
This is the main milk producing
hormone. So skin to skin alone increases milk supply. This ensures
the baby will be well nourished with colostrum initially, then by mature
breastmilk. If a mother has a difficult delivery and/or drugs during labour
and the baby is too tired or stressed to breastfeed after birth, skin to skin
contact protects her milk supply and encourages increased milk
production until the baby is able to breastfeed.
During the whole breastfeeding journey(recommended for 2 years or
longer), anytime a mom needs to increase her milk supply, she should
increase the frequency and duration of breastfeeding and go back to
skin to skin cuddling.
3. increases baby's interest in breastfeeding.
Babies can smell their way to the breast if put STS. If they wake up on
their mother's chests, this sense of smell reminds and encourages them
to find the breast and start to suckle. With no assistance, they will bob
their way to the nipple if given time. Amazing to observe!
4. promotes thermoregulation.
The skin between a mother's breasts will increase 1 degree to warm up a
cool baby and decrease 1 degree to cool down a baby that is too warm.
This works better and faster than an incubator or bundling in warm
blankets. Keeping a normal temperature is challenging for a newborn and
can lead to serious complications if not regulated. With STS, mom's
body does all the regulating without her having to think about it.
5. protects blood sugar levels.
In the first hours after birth, newborns are at risk of dangerous drops
in their blood sugar levels which can lead to brain damage if left
unchecked. Being too cold, stressed, increased muscle tension, lack
of colostrum, respiratory distress, born to diabetic mothers, all increase
the risk of decreased blood sugars in babies. STS addresses all these
potential challenges thereby promoting normal blood sugar levels.
6. decreases stress hormone levels in both mother and baby.
Stress hormone (cortisol) levels in newborns sleeping in a cot/cradle
beside mother's bed are 7 times higher than when STS and 100 times
higher when in another room. Long term separation (ie, premature
babies) when studied for 20 years, have less resilience to stress when
compared to young adults without the history of prolonged separation
in the newborn period. Babies have a primal awareness that their
chances to survive and thrive, are increased the closer they are to
their mother. When STS, babe hears mom's familiar heart beat and
smell and feels safer after being pushed out of his warm uterine cave!
Mother's stress levels increase also, when separated from their babies.
This mother/baby dyad are designed to be inseparable in the early days
both physically and psychologically.
7. increases oxygen levels in newborns.
Being able to maintain normal oxygen levels after birth is vital to supply O2
to all their organs,including the brain. There is a huge complicated
transition a baby must make between intrauterine and extrauterine
circulation of his blood. STS promotes normal oxygenation during this
time. This challenging transition is prolonged for premature babies.
8. stabilizes baby's breathing pattern and heart rate.
This is especially noticable in the first few days of life and in premature
babies as they are at risk for difficulties maintaining normal heart rates and
9. promotes better weight gain. (the main sign of health in a newborn)
When separated from mom (ie not STS) a newborn burns more calories
when trying to stay warm, regulate heart rate, breathing patterns, and
maintain normal blood sugars and deal with higher stress levels(which
increases mucle tension). Thus the ability to gain weight normally is
10. for further information and research, link to kangaroomothercare.com
or google Dr. Nils Bergman. He has done the most extensive
research on STS..
11. As the days and weeks go by, and babe adjusts to the outside world,
then the practice of "wearing your baby" becomes a priority....but
thats another story! (and not in my area of expertise!)
Nancy Smith RN IBCLC