Skin-to-skin, aka “Kangaroo Care”, is the process of placing a baby directly onto a mother’s naked chest after birth.
Skin-to-skin contact (SSC) as standard medical care began in Colombia in the late 1970s. At the time there was a lack of available incubators for preterm babies & as a result, an unusually high infant mortality rate. Midwives instead encouraged mothers to hold babies to try & help regulate their body temperatures. What midwives had noticed & researchers later confirmed, is that SSC has so many benefits for parents & babies alike.
To name just a few: SSC is associated weight gain, reduced rates of infection, more successful breastfeeding, the regulation of heart rate, respiration & oxygen levels & body temperature.
When a mother practices SSC, her infant typically snuggles into her breasts & falls asleep within a few minutes. Amazingly, research has shown that mothers’ breasts change temperature to match her baby’s temperature needs.
SSC has the most benefits for premature & low-birth-weight infants. This is because these babies have a more difficult time regulating their body temperature, breathing & heart rate. Preterm infants who experience SSC show improved cognitive development, decreased stress levels, reduced pain responses & better growth.
Nowadays, SSC immediately after birth is the norm for most babies. Occasionally this doesn’t occur due to medical issues where the baby or mother need to receive special care after delivery. If you’re not able to have SSC immediately after birth, don’t worry. This form of cuddle contact continues to be hugely beneficial for newborns in the weeks & months following birth.
As the name suggests, SSC occurs when your baby’s skin comes into direct contact with your own skin. There are lots of ways/times of day you can make sure to get some cuddle contact in! Try in the shower or bath, or instead after the bath with both of you wrapped up in a towel. Embrace those contact naps with your baby sleeping on your chest. Try doing tummy time on your chest instead of on a play mat.
References: Conde-Agudelo et al 2016; Reese 2006; Robles 1995