Mamas on Bedrest: Newborn “Cuddling” Good for Mamas and Babies

February 18th, 2013

Hi Mamas,

Did you know that it’s a really good thing to cuddle with your babies? Yeah, I know, a no brainer. Most of us may instinctively know this to be that case and find that it just feels so good we do it.  But research reported in the Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic and Neonatal Nursing confirms that skin to skin contact comforts babies and helps them to sleep better and be less “fussy”, while also helping mamas ward off depressive symptoms and stress in the early post partum period.

Last week, I shared a link on the Mamas on Bedrest & Beyonds Facebook Page from The Post Partum Stress Center. The article entitled, “Skin-to-Skin Contact May Lower Risk for Postpartum Depression” reports findings from the aforementioned longitudinal study following mamas in the early post partum. Mamas in the study group were encouraged to hold their babies for approximately 5 hours daily in the initial week post partum and for at least 2 hours daily for the first month. Mamas’-whether or not they developed post partum depression- were followed for three months (at 1 week, 1 month, 2 months and three months), and completed depression questionnaires. The researchers reported the following results:

“Compared to mothers in the control group, mothers in the SSC group had lower scores on the depression scales when the infants were one week and marginally lower scores when the infants were one month; when the infants were age 2 and 3 months, there were no differences between groups in the mothers’ depression scores. Over their infants’ first month, mothers in the SSC group had a greater reduction in their salivary cortisol than mothers in the control group.”

I was following some of the comments on the Post Partum Stress Center’s page and was surprised that their moderator had the following comment,

“Conclusions from this kind of research makes me nervous. Too much room for misinterpretation and self-blame. What about moms who are practicing skin to skin contact and still get depressed? What about moms who are too sick to engage in skin to skin contact? What other variables are being considered when the moms in this study reported fewer depressive symptoms?”

As I said, this comment surprised me so I went and read the actual study myself.  The study indicated that there was a beneficial reduction in depressive symptoms from skin to skin contact between mama and newborn in the early post partum period and this reduction was measured via salivary cortisol levels. It wasn’t clear what specific questions were asked in the depressive questionnaire and as one person commented on The Post Partum Stress Center’s thread, it was not known in what other activities/interventions mamas who were reporting fewer depressive symptoms were engaging. The researchers go on to say that skin to skin contact may be a way to lessen depressive symptoms and enhance the mother/infant bond.

There are a couple of reasons that I am seeing a discrepancy. First, the citation on the Post Partum Stress Center facebook page is from an article reporting on the study. Whenever I see such an article I immediately track down the actual research publication so that I can “get the scoop from the source.” This proved to be important here because the article had a couple of minor mistakes. The actual study indicated that mamas held their babies for about 5 hours of daily skin to skin contact for the first month. The article reported the skin to skin contact to be 6 hours daily. The study also indicated, and this is what I feel is the biggest area of discrepancy, that skin to skin contact may be a way to lessen depressive symptoms. From what I saw, it did not say that it skin to skin contact was curative, nor did it say that by doing skin to skin contact a woman would not develop post partum depression.  Additionally, I did not read the study as the researchers saying that skin to skin contact could replace medication or cognitive behavioral (talk) therapy in depressed mothers, but seemed to see it as an adjunct to other treatments.

I completely see what the folks at the Post Partum Stress Center were talking about. Just reading the article, a “depressed” mama may be lead to believe that if she simply holds her baby, her depression will magically lift and, if she holds her baby she won’t get post partum depression at all. In my opinion, this is not the intended conclusion of the authors at all. Further, Post partum depression is a very complex and very serious medical condition. If a woman has symptoms of post partum stress, she should not try to “tough it out” nor should she try to self diagnose. She should be evaluated by a trained health care professional immediately, as untreated post partum depression can have serious negative effects on both mama and baby. And it is my firm belief that it is the job of the health care providers, the “trained professionals”, at each and every contact with a new mama to ask pointed questions about how mama is adjusting to motherhood. These questions should be both directed at the symptoms of post partum depression as well as open ended so that mama can elaborate on her particular situation and ask any questions she may be harboring.

With lots of open, direct communication and support, I believe that mamas can get the help and support that they need if they are suffering with post partum depressive symptoms. Mamas, post partum depression is nothing to play with. Seek help immediately if you feel that you have depressive symptoms.

my daughter getting in on the skin to skin action on her newborn brother.

my daughter getting in on the skin to skin action with her newborn brother.



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