The Benefits of Skin to Skin
Updated: Jan 17
As practicing birth doulas in Ottawa, talking up the benefits of postpartum skin to skin contact between parents and the newborn is one of the things that we like to do best! Practicing skin to skin is easy and provides a wide range of benefits for parents and babies. If this is the first time you are hearing about skin to skin you have come to the right place! This blog post will give you all the important details about the practice and explain why you might want to consider adding it to your birth preferences list!
What is skin to skin?
Skin to skin is the practice of placing the baby directly on the mother's bare chest following birth. The birthing person and the baby are usually covered with a warm blanket and left to rest and get to know each other for as long as possible. During this time the baby may also have its first feed. Skin to skin doesn't only need to be done with the mother! We also encourage the father or birth partner to remove their shirt and practice skin to skin if it feels right for them. This can be an especially nice way to bond while the mother is taking a shower or getting cleaned up after birth.
Skin to skin is not just recommended for immediate postpartum but is also beneficial for the first days and weeks after birth or as long as both the parents and baby are enjoying and benefiting it.
What are the benefits of skin to skin?
Whenever possible we, as doulas, encourage skin to skin! It has so many amazing benefits including but not limited to:
1. Calming and soothing mother and baby. Placing a baby on the parents chest helps them feel safe and comforted. They can smell their parent, hear their voice have the familiar feeling of their skin.
For parents, having just gone through birth it's' reassuring to have the baby close by to watch them during their first moments of life outside the womb. Watching and hearing baby cry, smelling their skin, feeling their warmth, speaking directly to them and watching them open their eyes for the first time is all incredibly comforting for a newly postpartum parent.
2. Regulates baby's heart rate and breathing. Isn't it interesting that skin to skin supports heartbeat regulation and respiratory rates? This may be largely due to the fact that babies feel less distress when they are not removed from their mother and, instead, are provided with the contact, sounds and smells that are familiar to them from the previous nine months.
3. Supporters baby's microbiome. A microbiome is a community of organisms that can live in or on an organism. While some of us are familiar with the gut microbiome, many are unaware that microbiomes exist on every surface of the human body. A healthy microbiome is incredibly important for a baby's immediate and lifelong health. When a baby is placed directly on the parent's skin they are exposed to their families individualized garden of healthy bacteria. This, in turn, helps the baby's body populate their own microbiomes!
4. Improves bonding. Skin to skin supports the release of important feel good hormones and endorphins which improve love and bonding, and a feeling of protectiveness towards the new baby. This becomes especially important for parents who have had an interruption in skin to skin, such as those whose babies need support from the NICU immediately after birth. Practicing skin to skin during the first few weeks after brining baby home supports reconnection and bonding between mother and child.
5. Encourages rest. Practicing skin to skin usually involves laying down or sitting with the baby laying on you or in your arms. During an important time for recovery, remaining in resting positions is supportive for postpartum healing.
How can you make sure your baby gets skin to skin?
With all the benefits of skin to skin, you would think that it is something that is done automatically. While more and more practitioners are starting to regularly encourage skin to skin during the immediate postpartum, many are still offering a very short window of uninterrupted time before whisking the infant off for weighing, measturing, testing, diapering and sometimes swaddling. In order to make sure you and your baby have an extended period of skin to skin, consider the following steps:
Speak to your main health care provider and doula and your partner about skin to skin being an important part of your after birth plan.
Include immediate skin to skin on your birth intentions list and make sure your birth team has a copy and reviews it before your birth.
Ask for any procedures that need to be done immediately to be done skin to skin. For example, APGAR, suctioning (should your baby need it), and eye ointment (should you choose it) can all be done while doing skin to skin.
Inform your provider, doula and partner that your preference is an hour of skin to skin before weighing and measuring.
In the days and weeks after birth, have your baby in nothing but a diaper (or even naked!) and against you or your partner's skin as much as possible. Please be aware of your baby's temperature and ensure that you are both covered with a warm blanket during the colder months of the year.
This post was written by Ottawa Doula, and Ottawa Prenatal Nutritionist, Julia Davie. Her approach to birth work is heart centered, holistic and inclusive. She is honored to support families in Ottawa, Gatineau, and the surrounding areas.