A mom is holding her small baby

Benefits of Skin-to-Skin Contact

By: Sabrina Granniss, IBCLC


4 min

Right after your baby is born, they begin to experience the world and adapt to life outside the womb. Their most supportive and beneficial environment is skin-to-skin on mom’s body. Being skin-to-skin provides your baby with many benefits and can nurture a positive beginning for breastfeeding. As breastfeeding is getting established, skin-to-skin contact enables you and your baby to nurse more often. Connecting and communicating with your body allows them to follow their innate reflexes for latching and attaching to the breast.

Skin-to-skin contact means holding your baby unclothed or while they have only a diaper on and you are bare from your waist up. It is contact between your skin and your baby’s skin and is recommended for at least the first hour after birth. Although it was first recommended for premature babies, there is agreement that skin-to-skin benefits are important for full-term babies and should be encouraged and supported for all babies and parents. 

Your baby relies on you to help them regulate. Your baby learns self-regulation through co-regulation with you. As your baby’s brain develops and forms neural connections, the body’s functions and reactions to their environment happen in response to your contacts and responses to that environment.

After birth, skin-to-skin helps your baby adjust and have greater stability with breathing, temperature, glucose, and less crying. (1)  

Babies cry less when they are skin-to-skin with their parents.

Crying increases blood pressure, heartbeat, and breathing. Irregular breathing and heartbeat episodes can be reduced by 75% when the baby is placed skin-to-skin with their mother. (3)

Skin-to-skin contact is the best way to help keep your baby’s body temperature stabilized. When your baby is at your breast while doing skin-to-skin, your breast’s temperature will rise or cool down depending on your baby's needs. The baby won’t have to expend extra energy to heat their bodies because they are skin-to-skin and will tend to gain weight more quickly.

In a study with twins in skin-to-skin contact with their mother, each breast adapted and changed in response to the individual baby’s needs. (2)

We often see babies skin-to-skin in the first hour after birth. Beyond the first hour, it may not be suggested again, and it falls off our radar. However, the benefits of skin-to-skin contact do not disappear. In fact, continuing skin-to-skin contact with your baby often, especially while breastfeeding, helps improve the breastfeeding relationship. 

Being skin-to-skin with your baby during feeding gives them the freedom to move their body more easily, unrestricted by clothing. Mittens on their hands can get in the way. Babies use their hands to feel their way and massage the breast before and during nursing. Without clothing, they receive more sensory input and can move along your body more easily to reach your chest. 

Skin-to-skin contact releases oxytocin, known as the love hormone, increasing the bonding experience between you and your baby. As oxytocin increases, cortisol, the stress hormone, decreases. Oxytocin is the hormone responsible for milk release. Even past the newborn stage, when skin-to-skin with your baby, you and your baby can better relax and encourage milk let down.

Movement is crucial for babies. When they are skin-to-skin, it stimulates the specific part of their brain to move toward the chest and find your breast. Using their reflexes, they continue to wiggle and crawl until they reach the nipple, latch on, and begin to feed. During the latching process, they will gaze up towards your eyes and start the social interactions that teach them they are safe and emotionally supported. Skin-to-skin babies often gain weight more quickly and have more success with breastfeeding long-term.

How skin-to-skin helps with the latching process

  • Baby cries less and can calm down faster. 
  • Raises oxytocin level responsible for the milk ejection reflex.
  • Increases bonding between parent and baby. Dads can do skin-to-skin as well!
  • Allows the baby to use their sense of touch and smell more easily during latching.
  • It helps older babies who have had latching difficulties have latching success. (4)
  • Touch input to the brain drives movement and makes neural connections.
  • Repetition of skin-to-skin further strengthens muscles working together and their patterns for latching.

What can interfere with skin-to-skin

  • Mittens on your baby’s hands do not let them feel their way as easily toward the nipple. As they reach for your nipple, the fluid from your Montgomery glands is on their hands and smells like amniotic fluid, encouraging them to continue getting closer to the breast.
  • A newborn hat inhibits the mom from smelling the baby’s head. The scent of your baby releases oxytocin. Your baby’s temperature is better regulated by skin-to-skin contact than by a hat.
  • Clothing creates a barrier between the parent’s skin and the baby's skin. Touch over clothes feels more muted than on bare skin. 
  • Bras and shirts can get in the way of latching. To do skin-to-skin, wear nothing above your waist, and the baby should have on just a diaper. Put a blanket over the top of you both if it is chilly.
  • Separation of mom and baby, including swaddling and separate sleep areas. Babies who are skin-to-skin and in close proximity to their mothers react more often to each other's movements and cues for feeding. (6) Over 24 hours, this can result in feeding more often, including in the middle of the night, which is protective of the milk supply.

Other ways to add touch:

  • Take a bath with your baby 
  • Infant massage
  • Partners doing skin-to-skin is an excellent way for them to bond with the baby and learn to read their cues easier and faster. (5)

Skin-to-skin contact between a mom and their baby nurtures early bonding and development. In addition to helping regulate a baby's breathing, temperature, and glucose and reduce crying, it promotes successful breastfeeding and encourages movement and neural connections. By continuing skin-to-skin contact with your baby, you can improve the breastfeeding relationship and further strengthen the connection between you and your little one. Remember to avoid interference with skin-to-skin contact and enjoy its many benefits for you and your baby.

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