Skin to Skin Contact

Mamas on Bedrest: Hold Your Baby Close

October 18th, 2013

002_02Holding your baby close is one of the best ways to help your newborn adapt to his/her new environment.

Regardless of whether your baby was delivered vaginally or via a cesarean section, the difference between the internal womb environment and the delivery suite (even in a birthing center or at home) is a dramatic shock to the wee one’s system. Consider this; in the womb, your baby has lived in a perfectly controlled environment. The temperature is constant. There is no stark florescent lighting. There is plenty of food. There is a steady sway of movement from mama, and a soothing rhythm of sound from mama’s heatbeat as well as from her voice. Your baby is safe, secure and content. Once born into the outside world, your baby has to contend with a vast drop in temperature and has to learn to maintain his/her own body temperature. Where breathing was once easy and facilitated by the placental connection with mama, babies now have to breathe completely on their own. The food supply via the umbilical cord ceases and babies have to learn to suck-either mama’s breast or a bottle-all while breathing, maintaining their body temperature and adapting to the myriad of sounds and lights now surrounding them. It’s as if our wee ones have been transported to another planet and in a sense, they have! And it’s really hard work for them to adapt.

As we said in our last post, “Mamas on Bedrest: No Crying It Out”, a baby’s only means of communication is to cry. As mamas (and dads), our job is to “hear the cry” and to discern what our babies need. For most new mamas, this is a steep learning curve. But the one thing that can help both you and your baby be successful during this time is skin to skin contact, “Kangaroo Care”, holding your baby close.

I wanted to bring this issue to light because I have heard countless people tell new mothers, “Put that baby down. You don’t want to spoil him/her!” Nothing could be further from the truth! Holding a newborn in your arms close to your body won’t spoil him/her. In fact, skin to skin contact or “Kangaroo Care” allows your baby to regulate his/her heartbeat, regulate their breathing, to calm down, maintain adequate body weight, sleep more soundly, self soothe, breastfeed more successfully and gain weight at an appropriate rate.

Kangaroo Care was first introduced in Columbia in the late 1970’s. Burdened with shortages of hospital staff and resources, Dr. Edgar Rey Sanabria began having mothers of low birth weight infants hold their babies on their chest between their breasts. The babies were wearing only diapers and the mothers were also bare chested. A blanket was placed across the infant and mama. In this way, mama’s body heat helped warm the baby, and whenever baby was hungry, baby could nurse. Dr. Sanabria found that babies who had skin to skin contact with their mothers (and fathers) had better temperature regulation, were more successful breastfeeders, gained weight and were able to sleep and self soothe better. This technique was soon prescribed for premature infants. Preemies who had lots of skin to skin contact progressed faster than premature infants who did not and were discharged sooner. The practice finally caught on in North America in the NICU’s. Despite all the medical technology, close contact with parents is still the best medicine for even the most fragile infants once they are stable enough to be held. Frequent Skin to Skin Contact (Kangaroo Care) is now endorsed by the March of Dimes, The American Academy of Pediatrics and The World Health Organization. Skin to Skin Contact is recommended for term infants as well.

Mamas, you can’t hold your baby too close or too much in those first newborn days. The more you hold your baby close, the more you allow your baby to adapt his/her internal environment (breathing, heartbeat and temperature) with his/her external environment (lights, sounds, clothing, etc..). Skin to skin contact promotes bonding and this is a very important reason for dads to get in on the act. Babies need to know who their dads are and they will connect by the feel of Dad’s skin, the warmth from Dad’s body, Dad’s heartbeat and Dad’s breathing rhythm. Skin to Skin contact enables Babies to  come to know Dad as “a safe and secure being”, someone who is also present to meet their needs and love them. This promotes and hastens the bonding process between dads and their babies, a bond that will carry all the way through a baby’s life!

If you baby is crabby or fussy and not hungry, wet, ill or otherwise in distress, try sitting Skin to Skin. Sit in a comfortable chair, strip your baby down to his/her diaper and place them on your bare chest. Add a slight rock and firm but gentle hand on their little back, they will settle down in no time!

 

Additional Reference:

Kangaroo Care. The Holden Newborn Intensive Care Unit, The University of Michigan Health System.