Kangaroo care or Skin to Skin Contact is one of the best things you can give your newborn… This blog is taken from a piece I wrote for Water Wipes…
Skin-to-skin contact will help you bond with your newborn – but there are other benefits too, says midwife Jenny Lord.
Gone are the Call the Midwife days when your newborn would be swaddled in a blanket before being handed to you for that precious first cuddle. Now the best advice – and worth building into your birth plan – is that your naked baby should be placed on your own bare chest.
Known as the ‘golden hour’, skin to skin contact (SSC) is proven to help you bond with your baby – but, despite being recommended in current NICE guidelines, too few new mums seem to know about it, and that means they – and their babies – are missing out on all the benefits.
Ideally, though, you should be told about it during your antenatal care, and given the chance to discuss or practise it ahead of your delivery – but, if you’ve missed out, here’s your chance to catch up…
What is it kangaroo care?
SSC is also sometimes known as Kangaroo Care – which gives you some idea of how nurturing it is for your baby, and it should ideally be continued for at least three months.
It was first started in South America 25 years ago as a way of improving the health and survival rates of premature babies, but guidelines now recommend it for all babies, whether they’re born prematurely or at term (at least 37 weeks), and whether you’ve delivered vaginally or by caesarean. It’s known to boost your chances of success with breastfeeding – but even if you can’t breastfeed, or don’t wish to, don’t give up on the idea of SSC. Your baby will still benefit – and, beyond that first ‘golden hour’, we know there are huge pay-offs to continuing with SSC for several months as you and your baby settle into your new routine at home.
What does Kangaroo care do?
SSC helps you feel closer to your baby, but it has other benefits too…
- Builds your baby’s brain
Your baby arrives with a full set of brain cells, but the brain itself is only 25% of the size it will be in adulthood, and it lacks the development needed for all the connections to be made. Crucially, the amygdala – located deep in the centre of the brain – is going through a critical process of maturation during your baby’s first two months of life. American research has found that SSC activates the amygdala, contributing to its maturation; and this is vital to the development of your baby’s emotional learning, memory, and sympathetic nervous system.
- Makes breastfeeding easier
Research last year by the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses found that SSC helps babies to suckle better, and to breastfeed for longer and without the need for additional bottle feeds. Mothers who practised SSC also found that they could express more milk, according to another study, and this could be due to the fact that SSC triggers the release of the so called ‘love hormone’, oxytocin, which also boosts the production of breastmilk.
- Cuts your risk of depression
A 2012 study found that SSC had benefits for mums too – with mothers who practise it having a lower risk of postnatal depression. This could well be due to the fact that you’re likely to feel more confident with your baby if you practise SSC – because it offers another way of calming your baby that doesn’t involve feeding. You’re also less likely to be afraid of holding your baby for fear of ‘breaking’ her. This is a common feeling among new parents, but SSC will help to build your confidence around handling, and the more confident you are as a new mother, the less likely you are to suffer from anxiety, which could increase your risk of postnatal depression.
- Increases your baby’s pain threshold
Your newborn is going to be subjected to a number of potentially painful procedures, such as vaccinations and blood tests, but SSC has been proven to reduce the pain a baby experiences during them. It will also help you to feel less anxious about your baby’s medical appointments – and this also has a knock on effect on your baby. We see how both parents and babies are comforted by the closeness they’ve developed from regular SSC. Babies’ vital signs (heart rate, blood pressure and temperature) are regulated by their parents’ signs, and if the parent holding them is calm, they will be less stressed too.
- Buffers your child from stress
As well as reducing your stress and anxiety around your baby, SSC has been proven to lower the levels of the stress hormone cortisol your baby produces during a SSC cuddle – and there’s evidence SSC may also start to work as a buffer against future stress. In practice we have noticed how babies who’ve had regular SSC are calmer and cry less.
Need to know…
Q: Will my baby feel cold during SSC?
A: No – although your baby is naked, your own body temperature should help to keep him warm, but practise SSC when your baby is already warm and dry, holding him against your own bare chest. You can place a blanket over your baby to keep him warm if you feel you need to – but be careful not to overheat him. A single sheet or blanket is usually enough, alongside your own body heat.
Q: How safe is it?
A: Completely safe as long as you keep your baby’s head, nose and mouth visible at all time. A good rule is to make sure he is ‘close enough to kiss’. You should also avoid drinking alcohol or smoking during your SSC time – and be careful not to fall asleep. If you’re feeling dozy, hand your baby to your partner to take over.
Q: How long should I practise SSC for?
A: We recommend a minimum of 20 minutes, up to one to two hours at a time, five times a week, for at least the first three months of your baby’s life.
Q: Won’t SSC reinforce the mother and baby bond to the detriment of the bond with his dad?
A: Not if you let Daddy have a go too! In studies, fathers who practised SSC felt consolidated in their parental role, and offered the same benefits such as a lower pain threshold for their babies.