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Skin to Skin: Kangaroo Care

I LOVE that skin to skin is becoming so well-known and practiced in our society!

As a midwife using, homebirthing mom, I have known nothing other than skin to skin after birth. I learned of the benefits through our natural childbirth classes we took while pregnant with our first baby. However, there are so many women who do not know what skin to skin is, and prefer their little one be cleaned and swaddled before being held. This blog is for them. By the end, my hopes are for birthing mothers everywhere to lose their modesty, strip down, and welcome their vernix-covered newborns to their chests!

More hospitals are becoming “Baby Friendly” (Yes, that is an actual title a hospital can acquire) and implementing skin to skin immediately after birth. A good lactation consultant will also voice the benefits of keeping your newborn skin to skin as often as possible to help with nursing. The truth is there are so many benefits of utilizing skin to skin throughout your child’s infancy.

Have you heard the amazing miracle of a story about the premature baby who passed away at birth and could not be revived after over 20 minutes of trying, but was placed on mother’s bare chest while the parents grieved? Within minutes, the lifeless newborn showed signs that he was not ready to die. This story and others out there prove that there is more to believe in than just medicine and science. Our bodies can create life and provide for that life. The best part? Science is backing it all up for those who struggle with believing in miracles.

Kangaroo Care, as it is labeled, is when an infant is held skin to skin to their mother or father, generating heat for the newborn much like a baby kangaroo receives in its mother’s pouch. Note that fathers are included. Fathers should hold baby chest to chest often!

Having the mother and newborn experience skin-to-skin, chest-to-chest contact was first studied in 1970. Those early studies tested kangaroo care with full-term infants in the first hour or two after birth and confirmed improved maternal behaviors toward the infants and enhanced attachment. In 1983, skin to skin studies with preterm infants provided the foundation for hundreds of studies to follow. Over 550 studies later, the results all scream that infants provided with kangaroo care outperform newborns who are not kept skin to skin.

The manner in which a new baby is welcomed into the world during the first hours after birth may have short- and long-term consequences. There is good evidence that newborns who are placed skin to skin with their mothers immediately after birth make the transition from fetal to newborn life with greater respiratory, temperature, and glucose stability and significantly less crying indicating decreased stress. Mothers who hold their newborns skin to skin after birth have increased maternal behaviors, show more confidence in caring for their babies and breastfeed for longer durations. Being skin to skin with mother protects the newborn from the well-documented negative effects of separation, supports optimal brain development and facilitates attachment, which promotes the infant's self-regulation over time. Normal babies are born with the instinctive skill and motivation to breastfeed and are able to find the breast and self-attach without assistance when skin-to-skin. Hospital protocols can be modified to support uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth for both vaginal and cesarean births. Waiting to weigh and measure baby until after initial bonding has taken place is an easy exchange. All other procedures can be done while baby is on mother’s chest. The first hour of life outside the womb is a special time when a baby meets his or her parents for the first time and a family is formed. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and should not be interrupted unless the baby or mother is unstable and requires medical resuscitation. It is a "sacred" time that should be honored, cherished and protected whenever possible.( )

When baby is placed to your chest, make sure to have direct skin contact, no blanket or clothing between you. Practicing skin to skin care throughout your baby’s infancy will help whenever ailment strikes. Any time baby shows signs of illness or pain (teething, fever, a cold) skin to skin contact should be used. Getting into a lukewarm bath together while chest to chest is a great option to help soothe baby too!

Wonderful reasons to practice Kangaroo Care

  • Baby cries less, soothes easier and feels safer
  • Baby hears your heartbeat
  • Heartrates have been found to be more normal in babies who are kept skin to skin
  • Stabilizes blood sugar
  • Strengthens mother’s instincts with reading baby’s cues
  • Allergies and illnesses can be prevented in early hours by the bacteria found on mother’s skin. That bacteria is passed to baby and protects him.
  • Preemies statistically reduce need of oxygen intake
  • One hour of skin to skin increases the likelihood of a good latch for breastfeeding
  • Breastfeeding success rates increase and milk supply benefits
  • The hormone oxytocin is produced in a heavier amount while skin to skin, which improves milk let down and bonding

Early skin to skin contact is so very important and the skin to skin benefits speak for themselves. Please welcome your new little squishy baby with open arms, and a bare chest, after birth!

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