It was a hazy time. My eyes fluttered opened and I realized that after my emergency c-section, I was now back in my hospital room. I looked around and saw my in-laws fussing over what appeared to be a pile of blankets on the other hospital bed. Suddenly, it all came into focus.
Likely, it was just a few seconds later, but still doped up from the surgery, it felt like centuries. One of the nurses handed her to me and I felt like I gaped at her for an eternity. The same nurse helped me open up my hospital garb to expose my chest and put my sweet daughter, clad only in a little diaper, right onto my chest.
I’ll tell you now that this skin to skin contact was what helped me from screaming and running out the door. That and the catheter and IV that I was tethered too. My breastfeeding coach materialized moments later (she probably used the door like a normal person but she was so angelic, I imagined she floated in during my drugged up stupor) and helped me to get that latch and make sure we were doing our it safely.
Those moments are still what I think about when I watch my eldest daughter when she shouts, “Look at me! Look at me! Mommy! Look!” while she does cartwheels or draws some amazing picture that I could never have made at her age. And it still, nearly 8 years later, brings a happy tear to my eye.
It was the start of our new relationship. It all began when I first found out she was just the size of some small fruit in my uterus. Then, she kicked me constantly. Oh, this kid. Pain in the butt indeed, I love her like nothing else. I fully credit that skin to skin contact for helping us bond now that she was outside the womb and making breastfeeding easier.
If you’re about to give birth, I urge you to use it too. I’d like to tell you more about why and how to do it safely and call your husband over here to read this too. He should use it to bond with the baby as well!
Tell Me More About Skin to Skin Contact
Skin to skin contact sometimes called kangaroo care (or KMC for kangaroo mother care), is when you place your baby belly-down right onto your chest, ideally as soon after you give birth as possible. There are amazing benefits to this which I’ll get to in just a sec, but the short version of the story is that this helps strengthen the bond between you two.
Whoever delivers your baby will first dry her off and check vitals and all that. Then the magic of this type of contact can begin. Even if you have a c-section, as soon as you’re all stitched up, they can give you your baby so you can bond.
Interestingly, babies not only need this interaction but want it. They cry right after delivery and then when snuggled up next to you, they calm down. Soon after, they’re a bit more alert. It’s really a fascinating experience you have to see to believe.
Particularly if you’re planning to breastfeed, I urge you to use KMC to connect with your baby. The Cleveland Clinic cited eight different studies that showed that babies that had KMC were able to breastfeed better. The AAP also recommends it as soon after birth as you can, as well as in the first few weeks.
It also seems to ease the transition of being evicted from your uterus. The first three months of your baby’s life have been dubbed “the fourth trimester” by Dr. Harvey Karp because your baby is getting used to life in this strange outside world. Kangaroo care is great for helping them adjust, bonding, and has so many more benefits for you and your baby, and even your husband too! More on that in a moment!
How Long Can I Do Skin to Skin?
According to La Leche League, there is no set cut-off age for KMC to end. It’s best for you to gauge how you feel about it, though it’s most important in the first few weeks of life. From there though, you can decide if it’s necessary.
With both of my girls, I used kangaroo care for the first month. After that, I just snuggled with them a lot and nursed them on-demand. I think I’ve mentioned before that I felt like a “boob slave” for the first 8 weeks and then just like that, breastfeeding really got easier.
I still have an incredible bond with both my sweetie-pies because of it.
Dads and Skin to Skin
Don’t leave Dad out of the mix either! Husbands, listen up! While the first bonding should be with mom if possible to get your baby to breastfeed and build a strong latch, dads can practice kangaroo care. Because of my c-sections, my husband happily held both our daughters after birth like the perfect kangaroo dad until they could give me them to hold and breastfeed.
My husband was a bit spooked with our first, but after our second, it was old hat and happily grabbed her into his arms and snuggled her to his chest after I’d nursed her. He had this big, elated look on his face and happy tears coming out of his eyes. It was truly precious to watch.
If you need more proof, then check out this study confirming the wonderful benefits of dads using KMC to bond with their new babies.
Skin to Skin and How It Helps Babies
As I mentioned, there are great benefits with this type of contact for moms, babies, and dads too. I’d like to tell you about how it helps your baby with some facts from UNICEF.
Studies have shown that this type of contact:
- Calms your baby down after birth (and you too!)
- Synchronizes vital signs like the baby’s heart rate and breathing
- Helps babies adapt to the world beyond the womb
- Encourages an interest in nursing
- Brings baby’s temperature to normal, ideal levels
It Even Helps Preemies
I wish each of you carries to full-term but for those of you that have precious angels that pop out sooner, you can still get that skin to skin contact in. You should absolutely discuss this with your doctor and the hospital prior to delivery. Get a birth plan ready and make your wishes are known, whether your baby is born early or full-term.
For babies in the neonatal unit, it can:
- Improve oxygen throughout the body
- Reduces the stress hormone cortisol
- Helps your baby grow
- Stimulates pre-feeding
- Reduce the length of time in-hospital
And! If you express your milk right after KMC with your preemie, your milk volume will increase and gain more antibodies for your baby. It’s been shown to reduce your stress levels too.
How Skin to Skin Benefits You
So we know how it’s good for a baby. We know how it’s good for dads to get that bond going. And now, let’s talk about you because I’ve saved the best for last!
For starters, you become more in tune with your baby’s natural cues. That’s a big one, at least it was for me because I felt like I had no idea what I was doing or if I was doing it right. But when using this technique, I felt so hushed and calmed. I knew I’d figure it out.
Then there’s the release of prolactin, that milk-making hormone. I think a lot of it has to do with how relaxed you feel. No matter how much you read or how much I tell you about it, giving birth is one of the trippiest experiences of your life and you’re going to feel bizarre. But those moments skin to skin with your baby will make all that weirdness vanish away.
It also helped me to get both my girls latched just right, and I’ve told you before how important that is to breastfeeding. Also, just an FYI, if your baby is sick or in the NICU, when you express your milk for feeding, that skin to skin contact not only helps them calm down but also gets that milk flowing.
Skin to Skin with Sleeping Newborns a No-No
While skin to skin contact has numerous benefits there are some hazards new moms must be aware of. According to Dr. Clay Jones, the risk involves prolonged KMC. You should never just leave your baby lounging on your chest for heaps of time. Section it off throughout the day for those newborn snuggles and make sure nose and mouth aren’t covered up.
Also, a danger of rolling over onto the baby much like sleeping in the same bed. So use caution.
So How Do I Do Skin to Skin Safely?
According to La Leche League which administers information based on the AAP’s most updated safety guidelines, skin to skin should be done with your baby clad in just a diaper and a hat. You should remove your bra and let your baby lay on top of you so that her chest is right up against yours, in the middle of your breasts.
You should cover your baby’s back to help keep her warm and cozy and let her stay there for an hour for the first time you do this. Watch her closely and you’ll likely notice her trying to get to your breasts for that milk. This is when you can help her get latched on.
With this first contact, it’s so important. After this one, you can do KMC around feeding times but you don’t have to do it every single time or for an hour or longer.
But before you give this a try, there are some safety points I want to touch on for you so that baby stays safe during this bonding experience.
Make sure your baby can breathe
When your baby is laying on your chest, make sure you can see her nose and mouth. They should always be uncovered. Don’t let her neck bend too far forward either.
Don’t do it sleepy
One big danger is that you don’t want to fall asleep this way. You could roll over onto her or accidentally block her airway. Ideally, you’ll have others in the room with you so make sure they are actively watching and ask them to take the baby from you if you feel tired.
Keep baby upright
Your baby’s head should always be higher than her feet. Make sure she assumes that upright stance each time.
Turn her head slightly to the side
Even when you’re fully engaged and alert, it helps to turn your baby’s head to the side so her nose is almost in a sniffing position. This will help her sniff out your milk too.
Be careful with blankets
Adding a blanket on the back of your baby is important to help keep her nice and warm, but always stay aware. You want to be sure it never covers her nose or mouth.
If you follow these tips, skin to skin will be safe and wonderful with your new baby. Enjoy those sweet moments because before you know it, they will be too big to snuggle onto your chest!
Leslie Berry lives with her husband and two young daughters in Los Altos, California, where she loves helping other moms get comfortable with motherhood and embracing the insanity with facts peppered with laughs.
She loves eating too much sushi, exercising, and jamming out on her Fender. Read more about Leslie here.