Birthing Without Fear

Why Skin to Skin Contact Is Not Just For Premature Babies

Why Skin to Skin Contact Is Not Just For Premature BabiesBased on the limited choices available to me at the time, hospital birth was the only safe option. When I arrived at the hospital to give birth, I was asked if I was going to have a C-section or if I was going to be induced. Being familiar with the local mindset around birthing, I knew that the nurse was simply following her most common protocol by excluding a “normal” (natural) birth. I said that I simply wanted to birth my baby and that hopefully none of the two options would apply. She seemed confused by what seemed “normal” to me.

As our baby emerged from the inner world into the outer world, a nurse was ready with what looked like golden wrapping foil for a flower bouquet to cover our newborn son and take him away to get weighed and measured. I don´t think this procedure is appreciated by any baby and their vocalising thereof is generally disregarded. Luckily, I had written a ‘friendly letter’ to the midwives and the Obstetrician before checking into the hospital, which informed them of our birthing preferences.

Although it seems curious that one has to specify what “normal” means(i.e. not favoring drugs and medical birthing, as well as allowing my newborn baby to first be on my chest for skin to skin bonding), fortunately my Obstetrician´s awareness of my preferences helped to avoid the taking away of our baby, as he fully supported this instinctive action.

After 36 hours of labour, our son was born “normally” – without any drugs (I got offered an epidural about 10 times during my labour). The birth weight of 2370 g seemed to worry the nurses and I got instructed to wake my baby up every 3 hours during the first night and feed him some sinthetic “baby´s first milk”.

Our son entered this world calmely and with curious, open eyes. After a few minutes of keeping intense eye contact with me and his dad, he snuggled up to my breast and peacefully fell asleep. We both had undergone a beautiful yet exhausting long journey and although giving birth was new to me, my intuition told me that granting this little guy his well deserved rest was more important than disturbing his natural sleeping pattern. I never used the sinthetic milk and our baby knew exactly what to do to get the collostrum streaming, after having a good night of rest.

In many cultures, babies are generally cradled naked on their mother’s bare chest at birth. Historically, this was necessary for the baby’s survival. In recent times, in some societies such as in industrialized countries more babies are born in hospital, and as part of usual hospital care babies are often separated and swaddled or dressed before being given to their mothers. It has been suggested that hospital routines may significantly disrupt early mother and baby interactions and have harmful effects.

Dr. Jenny Thomas, MD, pediatrician in Wisconsin writes that “…Then the baby is born and is supposed to go to mom. Right to her chest. The chest, right in between the breasts is the natural habitat of the newborn baby.”

She adds the following fun fact: “Our cardiac output, how much blood we circulate in a given minute, is distributed to places that are important. Lots goes to the kidney every minute, like 10% or so, and 20% goes to your brain. In a new mom, 23% goes to her chest- more than her brain. The body thinks that place is important!”

Mothers who have just given birth have the ability to thermoregulate for the baby—if the baby’s temperature drops, the mother’s temperature rises, and if the baby’s temperature rises, the mother’s drops.

A recent study by the University of Liverpool was done to see if there was any impact of early skin-to-skin contact between the mother and her newborn baby on infant health, behavior, and breastfeeding.

The review included 34 randomized studies involving 2177 mothers and their babies. It showed that babies exposed to skin-to-skin contact interacted more with their mothers and cried less than babies receiving usual hospital care. Mothers were more likely to breastfeed in the first one to four months, and tended to breastfeed longer, if they had early skin-to-skin contact with their babies.

Dr. Nils Bergmann, M.D., speaks at grand round lectures to pediatritians, nurses, obstetricians, doulas and teaches expectant parents about skin to skin contact immediately after a baby is born. He argues that skin to skin contact is not just for premature babies; it´s for full term babies too, because it provides a place where the baby´s primal behaviors can be elicited that have a direct impact on fetal brain development. Specifically, the structure and organization of the brain at birth has two critical sensory needs: the sense of smell and that tactile sense (touch). Meeting these sensory needs of the newborn is captured by continuous skin to skin contact with mom and dad and other loved ones.

We have to remember that the newborn is coming out of a very restrictive environment, so anything that simulates that, comforts them. Being touched or hearing a heartbeat is familiar because they heard it in the womb.

If directly touching skin, a baby’s heart rate, respiratory rate, blood sugar, and temperature will improve. A newborn’s oxygen level is highest when skin-to-skin. The smell, sound, and heartbeat are soothing to a bambino. It is where they learn the important processes of breathing, temperature regulation, and eating the best.

There are also health benefits for mama from having the baby on her skin. As the baby moves his feet and hands against her, hormones are released to contract the uterus. A tightly contracted uterus won’t let blood flow through, and a mom bleeds less.

Cuddling with the bundle of joy unbundled for the first months of life will lead to additional profit. Babies cry less, and are happier when touching skin! If a baby is too sleepy to nurse, placing him naked near the food source will wake him up enough to breastfeed. Babies eat better when their skin can feel mama’s skin. Infants who spend time skin-to-skin gain weight better and breastfeed for more months.

Skin-to-skin contact can make a newborn smarter! Angelica Cable, author on, states that the more a baby is kept naked on skin the first few weeks of life, not just while eating, the better their brain development will be! Skin-to-skin contact is crucial for certain types of neural development during the first 3-8 weeks of life.

According to labor and delivery nurse, Christine Novak, R.N., “Skin to skin contact needs to be the standard practice of care in hospitals. Babies are born with their gastro- intestinal track sterile that will be quickly colonized by bacteria. It is most optimal for the baby to get the bacteria from mom´s skin, because breast milk will digest quickly, easily and allow that GI track to become filled with immune-enhancing properties that occur with skin to skin contact. Even for mums who are not breastfeeding, the skin to skin contact will increase oxytocin levels and boost prolactin, both hormones assist moms in post partum recovery. From a purely physiological perspective, skin to skin contact should be the standard of care.”

Many mothers experience an unspeakable rush of emotion as they see the newborn baby on their chest. This rush, which some may express in medical terms as the pouring out of the hormonal cocktails, causes them to forget all of the labor pains, the emotional ups and downs and apprehensions during their pregnancy, and helps them navigate through this rite of passage to motherhood.

An amazing example of the incredible strength of skin to skin contact is shown in the video in this link . An Australian mother held her newborn infant in this position for two hours and revived him after doctors pronounced him to be dead. Now that is a miracle of life that should be available to all new born babies.

Article written by Jana Allmrodt