Everything New Moms Need to Know About Skin to Skin
Skin to skin is something you probably had no clue about until you went to your first birth class. If you didn’t learn about it there, or you haven’t gone to your first class yet, then I’ll tell you that skin to skin is when a baby is placed naked or mostly naked onto its mommy’s bare skin. I opted to do this for a full hour after birth, before they even cut the umbilical cord, and it was amazing. We were both so serene and happy and wonderful. As soon as they whisked him away to the table next to me to do whatever they needed to do, he started crying. So, why does skin to skin make babies so peaceful? Well, it seems like a no-brainer but there is actually scientific evidence to help justify laying naked with your baby for the first 6 months. I was lucky enough to interview a woman who has devoted 43 years of her life to skin to skin research and helped produce this incredible skin to skin video, Dr. Suzi Ludington. You can read all about her incredible journey as a doctor and researcher below. But first, watch the video and read our conversation to find out everything new moms need to know about skin to skin.
How do you do skin to skin? Do you both have to be naked and lying down? Should the baby’s head be resting over your heart?
1. Place baby (in its nappy) on the mother’s bare chest so that they are nestled chest to chest
2. Position baby’s face to the side to clear the baby’s airway
3. Allow baby to stay snuggled for the recommended period of time
What are the benefits of skin to skin?
The top benefits are considered to be:
Can help baby adapt to the outside world
Can boost mental development
Can promote healthy weight
Can help to reduce baby’s stress
Can help baby sleep
A 2015 study published in the journal Pediatrics confirmed that for preterm newborns, skin-to-skin contact can help to lower the risk of sepsis, a blood infection, and boost babies’ odds of survival by improving vital signs.
During what times/occasions is skin to skin most beneficial?
Babies can benefit from skin-to-skin care in the days, weeks, and even months following birth. In fact, it is often recommended that be practiced up to 3 months old for full-term babies and 6 months old for premature babies.
How long should you do skin to skin immediately after birth to get the maximum benefit?
After childbirth, there is varying advice on this topic, ranging from the first hour after birth (WHO) to the first breastfeeding (American Academy of Pediatrics).
What about skin to skin with the father? Does that work, too? Or, is it just the mother who has the special powers?
Skin to skin can be performed by both parents – and other family members – which can help to improve attachment and bonding. The mother has a more unique ability to control the baby’s temperature
The science of skin on skin
Dr Suzi Ludington explains; “Skin to skin contact means placing the newborn baby who is wearing only a nappy up against his mother’s chest so they are skin to skin, between her breasts, and between her sternum and her belly button. In this position, the baby’s presence can stimulate a special set of nerves that are only there for the first six weeks of life. They are called c afferent nerves, and they immediately go to the baby’s brain and the mother’s brain to create phenomenally wonderful changes in their bodies.
Once the stimulation gets to the brain, it releases a hormone that goes to fourteen different places in the baby’s brain and in the mother’s brain. The stimulation that goes to the brainstem controls the baby’s physiology of heart rate, his breathing rate, how much oxygen he’s got in his blood, how much oxygen gets to his brain, the baby’s temperature and the overall well-being of his body.
When our mothers and babies are together, mothers regulate their babies’ biology and in turn, the baby regulates the mother’s biology, making sure she is able to take care of the baby and recovers from the birth optimally.”
Dr. Suzi Ludington has been studying the impact of skin to skin care for 43 years.
Ludington has been studying skin to skin since 1988, conducting the first research study of the method in the United States. She has been repeatedly funded by the National Institutes of Health to conduct randomized controlled trials of Kangaroo Care and establish the evidence base for Kangaroo Care effects on infant physiology and development. Her research record has earned her inaugural membership in the International Nurse Researcher Hall of Fame, the Audrey Hepburn Award for Global Contributions to the Health of Children from Sigma Theta Tau International and Excellence in Research from the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses.
Dr. Ludington is currently the Margaret Davis Walters Endowed Chair of Pediatric Nursing at Case Western Reserve University’s Bolton School of Nursing in Cleveland, OH. She has been a maternal-neonatal nurse since 1972 and a certified midwife since 1979.
Further reading on skin on skin
- The psychobiology of emotion: the role of the oxytocinergic system, Uvänas-Moberg K, Arn I, Magnusson D. 2005
Evidence-Based Review of Physiologic Effects of Kangaroo Care, 2011, Susan M. Ludington-Hoe, 2011
Heart Rate Variability Responses of a Preterm Infant to Kangaroo Care, Gail C. McCain, Susan M. Ludington-Hoe, Joan Y. Swinth, Anthony J. 2007 Hadeed
- Neurophysiologic assessment of neonatal sleep organization: preliminary results of a randomized, controlled trial of skin contact with preterm infants. Ludington-Hoe SM, Johnson MW, Morgan K, Lewis T, Gutman J, Wilson PD, Scher MS. 2006