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The Benefit of Skin-to-skin Contact After Delivery

When my twins were born at 35 weeks, they were immediately whisked to the neonatal station for a thorough check up and a stint in the incubator. It was more than 12 hours later when I could finally see, much more, hold them. Those waiting hours were probably among the longest in my life.

From the warmth of the womb, the temperature of the outside world can be a shock to the newborn. Thus, preemies are placed in incubators to keep their body temperature stable.

Holding Baby Just After Delivery

A more natural alternative that I should have insisted upon was direct skin-to-skin contact, the so-called kangaroo method. This method of direct cuddling somehow stimulates the conditions in the womb and benefits the baby.

I remember an episode of the Grey’s Anatomy where Alex held a preemie baby girl for what was supposedly the last hours of her life. Instead, he saved her life.

But this does not only happen in TV shows. There is scientific evidence to prove this. There was a case recently of a preemie baby born at 27 weeks in Australia who was declared dead upon delivery. Held by a grieving mother trying to say goodbye for 2 hours, little Jamie revived.

But what does a mom’s body offer that an incubator cannot? The incubator may provide the warmth but it cannot simulate mom’s comforting heart beat, familiar smell and gentle voice. For the baby, the outside world is not so scary anymore.

But even babies who were born full term benefit from skin-to-skin cuddle with mom or dad. Those first few minutes of body contact can mean the bonding of a lifetime.

The Benefits Are Not Just For Baby

However, the benefits of directing cuddling are not one-sided. Mommies get something out of it, too, according to a recent study by Canadian researchers. Moms who practiced skin-to-skin cuddle tend to breastfeed much longer, are less likely to suffer from postpartum depression, and develop a much closer bond to their babies than those moms who didn’t. Scientists believe the bonding hormone oxytocin is responsible for this (see previous post on oxytocin).Besides, close physical contact with her baby makes a mommy atuned to the infant’s signals, be it hunger, slumber or wakefulness. The baby, too, gets to recognize mommy’s feel and smell right from the start.

More than 7 years ago, I wasn’t allowed to hold my babies right after C-section. I always urge moms-to-be: hold your baby next to your skin right after delivery. It’s a once-in-a lifetime moment. It’s good for your baby and for you.


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