We sat down with renowned author and midwife, Mark Harris, to find out his perspective on dads and skin to skin contact as part of our celebration of International Kangaroo Care Awareness Day. Mark is incredibly knowledgeable and passionate and we learned so much! Here are the highlights, we highly recommend Mark's book 'Men, Love and Birth' and his excellent course 'Birthing 4 Blokes' both full of his amazing insights about what makes men and women tick and how to best help them communicate during and after the birth of their babies!
What are the best reasons for dads to do skin to skin contact with their babies?
I think skin to skin contact offers dads an important opportunity, particularly when their partner is breastfeeding, to create that crucial early 'bond' which we really call attachment now, as it goes deeper than previously understood. So much evidence now also highlights the hormonal implications for skin to skin. Dads holding their babies release oxytocin which inclines them to want to parent. I feel this probably has an evolutionary basis. We have been through millions years of human evolution as mammals, so the adaptations we make in our behaviour and care of babies are linked to survival. So these hormonal experiences dads have are part of our success as a species.
How do you think we can encourage more dads to enjoy skin to skin?
First of all let's be honest we're not doing well on always encouraging women having skin to skin! So we need to be ensuring that early skin to skin of baby with mother should be happening, not taking baby away for checks and so on. So given that context, men need to understand the biological benefits of attachment and regulation of newborn babies' temperature and breathing and to know they can perform this task as well as mothers can. Our nomadic existence before we became agricultural and industrial was as hunter gatherers and that meant we held our baby close for long periods against our bodies for survival. When men understand these factors and how it supports a baby's development they respond by meeting the challenge of providing this protection and support for their new baby.
What is intuitive to women is not intuitive to men their neural view of the world is very different. Males and females who are stressed (as can often happen when adjusting to a new baby) tend to react differently, women seek out behaviours that stimulate oxytocin, activities like talking through issues with others, walking with no destination in mind etc and through them they find stress relief.
A man when stressed is craving testosterone so the behaviour he chooses is often different to a woman's, men seem to respond better to goal focussed activities/finding a solution a quickly as possible, if a solution is not quickly available he might withdraw from the problem and not want to talk about until he is ready to have another attempt at solving it.
So if we root our communicate to men about skin to skin contact in a mild flavour of challenge we are setting them up to respond to the challenge by engaging in skin to skin contact with their baby.
What do you think of the men's and women's kangaroo care tshirts and tops?
Any product that encourages the wearing of babies is in line with our evolutionary development and so must be a great thing!
With many thanks to Mark for taking the time to chat to us and sharing his insights, there's so much more to learn and understand about how we can best support dads and we will be following up with another blog soon.