The benefits of skin-to-skin contact for babies after birth have been well documented. But what about for mothers? After all, they, too, have been on quite a journey. New research to be presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference & Exhibition suggests maternal stress levels benefit from skin-to-skin cuddling.
Birth can be a tiring time for both mother and baby, but previous studies have outlined the many benefits of mothers (or fathers) sharing skin-to-skin contact with a newborn.
For example, babies who have an hour of post-birth skin contact are less stressed, which means their breathing and heart rate is more stable, they cry less and they digest their food better when they start to feed.
Because a mother's chest area is warmer than other parts of her body, it prevents her new baby from cooling down, which is a significant health risk. Additionally, being so close to the mother will help the baby pick up some of her skin's friendly bacteria, preventing infection.
Furthermore, like any mammal, a new baby has the instinct to want to be in close contact with its mother or father. When it is taken out of this natural comfort area, a newborn will display physiological signs of stress, including becoming sleepy or lethargic, and becoming disassociated or crying and protesting in despair.
Investigators behind the latest research - led by neonatologist Dr. Natalia Isaza of the Children's National Health System in Washington, DC - say for babies born prematurely or with special medical needs, the all-important early bonding can sometimes be interrupted by medical care required in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
'A simple technique to benefit both parent and child'
The researchers say this early bonding time is also important for parents, so they set out to examine the stress levels of mothers before and after they held their babies for an hour in a "kangaroo style," which means skin-to-skin inside the pouch of their shirt.
The study took place at a large metropolitan NICU, and Dr. Isaza says they "found that all of the mothers reported an objective decrease in their stress level after skin-to-skin contact with their babies."
Infant birthweights ranged from less than 1 lb to over 8 lbs, and the ages varied from 3 to 109 days. All of the infants were being treated for a health issue of some sort, and over half needed oxygen support.
Results showed that maternal stress of being separated from their infants decreased for mothers after skin-to-skin contact, and it improved their overall experience in the NICU.
"We already know there are physiological benefits in the newborns when they are held skin-to-skin," says Dr. Isaza, who adds:
"Now we have more evidence that skin-to-skin contact can also decrease parental stress that can interfere with bonding, health and emotional wellness, and the interpersonal relations of parents, as well as breastfeeding rates."
She adds that skin-to-skin contact is a "simple technique to benefit both parent and child that perhaps should be encouraged in all NICUs."
Unless there are medical reasons to prevent it, the prevailing belief is that the vast majority of babies should be able to be placed skin-to-skin with the mother, even after a cesarean section. And many hospitals are giving skin-to-skin contact precedence over post-birth routines, such as weighing the baby.
Medical News Today recently reported on a study that suggested maternal stress in pregnancy affects the child's motor development.