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April 07, 2016
Did you really think that your baby was ready to be out in the world after birth? If you did, … welcome to the Fourth Trimester! In New Jersey, where I live, employees are entitled to just twelve weeks of paid leave, and we have one of the better maternity leave policies in the United States. In other words, your baby is medically ready but maybe not totally ready; she would much rather snuggle against your body than anywhere else in the world. Her world is you. Skin to skin contact, or kangaroo care if you have a preemie, will save your baby’s and your sanity. Here are ten tidbits about skin-to-skin contact which may convince you to give it a try.
Skin to skin contact starts you off on the right foot.
Anyone familiar with livestock or birth in general knows about the golden hour, the hour after birth when a baby checks out home base, her mother, and begins to breastfeed. If your doctor or midwife can keep that golden hour sacred, allowing you to cuddle the baby on your chest rather than removing her for tests, you can often establish a very good beginning to breastfeeding while the baby is alert and receptive. If the baby does need to be removed for critical care, though, don’t fear. Skin to skin contact can make up for that lost golden hour.
Or it can regain the baby’s equilibrium.
When my four-month-old recovered from his first stomach bug, (second children seem to get diseases more quickly), he didn’t drink much milk for a few days. Besides general recovery, skin-to-skin contact got him reacquainted and reinterested in breastfeeding again. After a small or big setback in your baby’s life, cuddling can give him the gentle, instinctive reminder that you’re here for him.
Skin to skin contact promotes breastfeeding.
Whether the baby has the golden hour immediately after birth or catches up on bonding later, increased skin to skin contact relaxes both the baby and the mother, laying important groundwork for future breastfeeding success.
Skin to skin contact regulates everything.
Regulation is no joke in the case of a baby, whose first weeks, apart from a few fleeting smiles, are remarkably devoid of humor. Life for a baby out here is tough, but keeping him snuggled close to you can help him to regulate his breathing, heart rate and even his temperature.
Skin to skin contact promotes gut health and immunity.
This fact blew my mind, but apparently skin to skin contact helps the baby’s digestive system to mature by stimulating the vagal nerve, which increases the surface area for absorbing nutrients. A baby’s immunity is also increased as your milk creates antibodies to fight bacteria on your skin, turning a possible drawback into a positive.
Skin to skin contact promotes happiness.
Studies have shown that babies who remain in close proximity of their mothers cry less than babies who do not. Not only is this contact great for the baby, but it also helps to stave off post-partum depression in mothers as well.
Any contact provides benefits to the baby.
To provide what is termed kangaroo care, hold the infant with his bare chest against your own bare chest for at least an hour. Use a diaper and a light blanket over the baby’s back for comfort if you wish. The full hour provides the baby with the proper hormone cycles.
However, as a busy mother of the second child, I’d still argue that any skin to skin contact will benefit both you and the baby. I only suggest that, not to argue with the World Health Organization or any medical officials, but simply to encourage you not to read the clock and to just enjoy snuggling your baby. If your first child interrupts you 58 minutes into your contact session, all is not lost. Babies don’t care about clocks anyway.
Skin to skin contact can occur any time, almost anywhere.
One day, a few months after my first son was born, I emailed Sheila, an adult friend, and said, “I still hate giving the baby a bath. I don’t have enough hands, and I can’t relax and make him relax.” Her answer? “Just take him in the tub with you.”
Um, really? But I tried bathing him by sitting in the tub in just my underwear, and it worked. I could support the baby with my body, leaving my hands free to clean him up, which was automatically more relaxing for me. But I was even more surprised to realize how much the baby preferred this method of bathing. He would lean against my stomach and enjoy himself.
So skin to skin contact can occur during times other than breastfeeding, though the official kangaroo care position is still chest to chest for a full hour.
Skin to skin contact leads to better sleep.
The beautiful crib you bought for your baby most likely does not seem quite so wonderful to your little one, who would prefer to sleep on or near you whenever possible. Keeping your baby close to you allows the baby to sleep more deeply for a longer period of time. If you happen to be sitting, reclining or lying in a comfortable place with your baby, this same closeness can promote sleep for the mother as well. And a relatively well-rested mother is better for everyone!
Skin to skin contact promotes bonding.
Maybe you are a mother who has chosen not to breastfeed or are unable to do so. Or maybe you’re a father, grandparent, sibling or friend trying to give Mom a break. Skin to skin contact is for everyone. Even very young children can cuddle their baby siblings against their chests for short periods of time under your supervision. Young children can practice by cuddling their MamAmor dolls and by observing the way the mother doll cradles her baby before trying it out with their siblings.
I am indebted to the article, “Seven Benefits of Skin to Skin Contact,”
and to “About KMC,”
Kristen Witucki - New Jersey, US
March 14, 2023
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