Guest post by Emily Shepard
A soft, faded quilt. A cup of warm tea. Your newborn baby sleeping peacefully on your chest, skin-to-skin, heartbeat to heartbeat.
Did you know the postpartum period could be this relaxing?
Practicing skin-to-skin contact, also known as kangaroo care, with your precious newborn is one of the simplest and most effective ways to bond and establish an environment of safety and security.
As I write this, searching for the right words to tell you the ways in which motherhood has transformed my life, my nine-month-old baby girl is nestled under my arm, her bare belly and chest against mine. My older daughter, who just turned three, is curled up against my back enjoying her afternoon nap.
Like many of you, I was reborn the first time my daughters were placed on my chest. It felt as if every choice I’d made led me to that moment. My dreams and goals have since profoundly shifted. I often can’t sleep because I’m bustling with excitement just thinking about the extraordinary life my family is building together.
At the root of my joy is the close connection I feel with my babies and my overwhelming feeling of gratitude. It all started with that first beautiful moment when my little girls were placed in my arms.
When my oldest daughter, Darcy, was a baby, I never put her down. We regularly practiced skin-to-skin contact because if she wasn’t nursing, she was in my arms. At the time, I had no idea how beneficial the practice truly was. Keeping her close just felt right, so I trusted my instincts.
A couple of years later we were blessed with another baby girl, Laney. By then I was well equipped with the information I needed to motivate this daily, intuitive practice again.
Our evening routine for the first few months of Laney’s life looked like:
- Snuggle up, skin-to-skin
- Breastfeed Laney
- Watch as Laney peacefully drifted off to sleep against my chest
- Read or watch a movie with Darcy as Laney slept, dada cooked dinner, and I sipped tea and recharged
This peaceful family time helped me to pause the outside world, slow down, and capture beautiful moments of my growing daughters I’m sure I would have missed had I been less able to focus on the journey.
Skin-to-skin contact has had a profoundly positive impact on my family and I’ve become passionate about learning all there is to know about it. I’m excited to share what I’ve learned with you! So, here is a breakdown of the many benefits you’ll experience when you make skin-to-skin contact a restorative ritual.
The basics of skin-to-skin contact
According to Sanford Health, it’s recommended that parents practice skin-to-skin contact with their babies for at least the first three to six months of life, but the benefits remain long after (Seitz, 2017).
In most hospitals, newborn babies are placed directly on their mother’s bare chest immediately after birth. Leading health organizations, including the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, and the Neonatal Resuscitation Program recommend early skin-to-skin contact as it is crucial for the health of moms and babies alike.
Simply hold your baby so that her bare skin is pressed against yours, then wrap up in a blanket. Enjoy snuggling in this little cocoon of affection.
Benefits for mum of skin-to-skin contact
While you’re basking in this relaxing moment and cherishing every cuddle, your body is being flooded with oxytocin. Oxytocin is nicknamed the “love hormone” because it surges during childbirth, breastfeeding, and skin-to-skin contact.
Not only does a surge of oxytocin feel good, it contributes to breastfeeding success by signaling to your body that it’s time to make more milk. Research supports that mothers who regularly practice skin-to-skin contact have greater initial breastfeeding success and are more likely to breastfeed for a longer period of time.
Practicing skin-to-skin contact also promotes uterine contractions, which slows bleeding and helps your body heal from childbirth.
Lastly, the incredible benefits of skin-to-skin contact work together to lower your risk of postpartum depression.
If you think that’s amazing, just wait until you learn how beneficial skin-to-skin contact is for your baby.
Benefits for baby of skin-to-skin contact
Let’s start with the skin. Your antibodies are transferred directly from your skin to your baby’s skin. This strengthens the immune system while creating a protective barrier on the skin, which helps protect your baby from bacteria.
Heart rate, oxygen levels, and temperature are also regulated through skin-to-skin contact. This is particularly crucial for your newborn because she has to work harder to stay warm. When your baby is resting on your chest (or dad’s chest!) vital energy can go towards weight gain, restful sleep, and learning, rather than warmth and survival.
Because your baby feels so safe nestled close to you, brain development and maturation is accelerated: “Sensations that tell the baby’s brain that the outside world is safe include mother’s smell, movements and skin-to-skin contact” (Seitz, 2017).
Your relationship with your baby sets the tone for all her future relationships, and the first step in forming a healthy attachment is your loving touch.
As you can see, closeness to mama isn’t just a preference; regularly practicing skin-to-skin contact literally wires your baby’s brain for the best possible health outcomes. So while it may feel like you’re just relaxing and cuddling, you’re actually doing one of the most vital things you can do to set your baby up for a lifetime of good mental and emotional health.
Benefits for you both of skin-to-skin contact
Practicing skin-to-skin contact for just 20 minutes significantly lowers cortisol levels, the stress hormone, for you and your baby. This decreases anxiety, lowers blood pressure, and makes you both feel happier and more connected.
The close connection you have with your baby helps you to be more attuned to her needs. The more time you spend together, the better you can distinguish her cries, respond to her hunger cues, and positively interact. The symbiotic relationship that a mother has with her baby relies on close proximity, which will help you both amplify the joy of this transformative, once in a lifetime experience.
Here’s how to get the most out of your skin-to-skin session
A great time to practice skin-to-skin contact is before nursing, as this will stimulate your baby’s desire to breastfeed, or before a nap, because research shows that your baby will sleep more soundly while positioned skin-to-skin. Experts recommend staying in this cozy position for at least an hour so your baby can experience “deep sleep” while you enjoy this special time together.
Today, other than being a mom, I have the best job in the world. I write for Bonsie Skin to Skin Babywear, a company who makes baby clothing specifically designed for skin-to-skin contact. I have the opportunity to learn from experts, meet remarkable mothers, and collaborate with organizations who make their community a better place for families. My job is to learn everything there is to know about skin-to-skin contact and share it with you.
So, take a moment, mama, and hold your little one close while you revel in the magic and wonder of motherhood.
About the author: Emily is a mom, writer, and PR specialist for Bonsie Skin to Skin Babywear. She lives in the Midwest with her husband, two young daughters, and dog. Through Emily’s writing and work with Bonsie she hopes to educate and support moms in giving their babies the best possible start in life.