MEETING THE LOVE OF YOUR LIFE
Holding your new baby for the first time, feeling their tiny hand curled around your finger, breathing in their special scent and just 'being' together is the most magical part of giving birth. Not everyone can experience skin to skin contact immediately after baby is born but whenever you get the chance to be close to your baby the magic is every bit as real.
GOING ON INSTINCT
It's a natural instinct to bring your baby to your chest and cradle them where they can hear your heartbeat, share your warmth, feel you breathing and listen to your voice. Your baby has the same instinct to seek out close contact with you. Left undisturbed after birth, a baby will crawl up it's mother's body and after taking time to rest and recover, they will begin to suckle at the breast then continue to lie peacefully skin to skin and sleep. During skin to skin contact both baby and parent get a rush of oxytocin, the 'love' hormone. Oxytocin is pretty special as it is also a neurotransmitter meaning it interacts with multiple systems in our bodies.
WHAT HAPPENS DURING SKIN TO SKIN CONTACT?
Oxtyocin gives us a sense of safety, well being and relaxation enabling the brain to form a strong attachment to our new baby and for babies to build a trusting bond with their parent. It reduces stress, counteracting hormones like cortisol which can be produced in response to traumatic birth. Oxytocin aids deep sleep which is essential for healthy brain development. It also stimulates the mum's body to release prolactin, the hormone responsible for milk production. Babies held skin to skin against mum's chest will being to root for the breast and suckle aiding the establishment of breastfeeding.
Combined with the familiar sound of their parent's voice, the warmth and containment of their parent's arms, and the more regular pattern of their breathing oxytocin helps make skin to skin time the calmest part of the day for newborns as they transition from life inside their mother's womb. Parents report feeling calmer during skin to skin contact and that afterwards they feel more confident and responsive to their babies. Where a parent is suffering from post natal anxiety of depression studies have shown that regular skin to skin contact can lessen the symptoms and aid recovery.
THE PERFECT ENVIRONMENT FOR NEWBORN BABIES
Nils Bergman, a Neonatal Neuro-scientist dedicated to improving outcomes of premature babies through Kangaroo Care states 'The very best environment for a baby to grow and thrive, is the mother's body'.
A mother's body provides warmth, food and security and acts as a guide helping to regulate essential body functions in her newborn. Studies of premature babies show that heart rate, respiration and temperature stabilize during skin to skin contact, these effects are also present when fathers hold their babies skin to skin. Babies who receive daily skin to skin contact, known as Kangaroo Care, have better outcomes overall compared to those who do not. Some of the recorded advantages in terms of both physical and cognitive development have been recognised as continuing throughout childhood. In the short term, premature babies who receive kangaroo care stabilise more rapidly and gain weight better which can result in the average stay in NICU being reduced by 1-2 days. This doesn't sound like much, but the average daily cost of care in NICU is £1500 per baby so our health care systems benefit from using Kangaroo Care for premature babies too.
When babies are born they carry limited immunity from their time in the womb. Colostrum, the first milk produced by the mother's breasts, contains concentrated amounts of antibodies and proteins which fight against infection. Contact with the mother's skin also helps the baby's skin become colonised with helpful bacteria which benefits the immune system. At the same time being held primarily by the mother reduces the risk of infection from others.
WHAT IF MY BABY IS BORN PREMATURELY?
Skin to Skin Contact is recognised as a life-saving intervention for premature babies in developing countries and is promoted as the 'Gold Standard' of care for all newborns by UNICEF and the World Health Organisation. Charities supporting premature babies and their families such as BLISS and Tommy's promote kangaroo care.
For some babies it can take time for them to be stable enough to receive Kangaroo Care, but through our work in NICUs across the UK we have heard many times how using a kangaroo care wrap has helped more vulnerable babies enjoy skin to skin contact sooner and for longer than just holding them in arms with a blanket for warmth or placing them inside normal clothing.