Skin-to-skin with your baby leads to happier, healthier development

skin to skin

Throughout history, the newborn’s traditional rite of passage has been from mother’s womb to mother’s arms. And for good reason. Skin to skin with your baby leads to happier, healthier development. The transition to the outside world is far smoother with a mother holding her baby close to her heart. 

What we observe when babies are held skin-to-skin is a regulation of their heartbeat and breathing, smooth, quiet body movements, body temperature control, and ease of digestion. They are all physiologically demanding for the newborn. Which makes this harmony much easier while skin-to-skin with the mother because the infant’s systems begin to regulate. What’s fascinating about skin-to-skin is that mother and baby mutually regulate each other and leads to a happier, healthier development. For example, mother’s temperature fluctuates to maintain her baby in a thermoneutral range, found Susan Ludington of UCLA. If her baby is not warm enough, the mother’s body warms. When her baby’s temperature reaches the thermoneutral range, the mothers temperature returns to baseline. If a baby gets cold, the mother begins to warm up again.

Why I’m addicted to skin-to-skin, massage, and self-care.

In the coming weeks after my mother gave birth to me she was super lucky to have a friend that was a massage therapist and would come over to our house every week and give my mother a massage. So needed for every mother right? Yes, please!

During this time she would also give me baby massages upon my mothers chest. I was told stories of how she would use the eraser from a pencil to stimulate those tiny areas of my body and feet so to this day I think of touch, massage and self care as a non-negotiable in my life. It was programmed into me. It’s not like I am able to do this everyday, but it IS a priority in my life to get regular body work. I yearn for and need touch, like many of us do. As humans, we need touch, stimulation and sensuality. How do you think those babies got into your arms?

It is said that the palms of the hands are the messengers of the heart!

Mama, you are your babies 1st environment and what they call the fourth trimester as they transition out of the womb. Their second environment outside the womb is on your chest where they feel the lullaby of your heartbeat and their organs regulate. Calmed by your loving caress, they begin an exploration around their own physicality. You begin opening them up to the physical world of their body and surroundings. Holding helps them feel safe and loved which allows them to develop secure attachments, sensation in their arms, in their hands, legs, kissable cheeks and their cute little toes.

More skin-to-skin health benefits? 

Yes, indeed. Skin-to-skin time releases hormones that relieve stress and stabilize a baby’s temperature, breathing rate, heart rate, and blood sugar. Along with other hormones that lower mom’s stress and promote healing. But apart, the newborn must work doubly hard to maintain physiological harmony. This tells us that it’s not only unnecessary to separate baby and mother, it’s less efficient and more stressful. 

“So the child learns life within human arms. It learns to eat… To laugh, to play, to listen, to watch, to dance, to feel frightened or relaxed, in human arms.”

Margaret Mead

What about babies born preterm or premature? 

In 1979, the year I was born. Edgar Ray Sanabria in Bogota, Colombia, developed the Kangaroo Mother Program as an alternative to conventional incubator treatment for low birth weight infants. Hospitals there, too poor to provide incubators for all but the most unstable and tiniest “preemies,” turned to mother nature to help them: a technique called Kangaroo Care. Infants up to 2 months premature but stable enough to breathe on their own were placed upright between their mother’s breast, inside her clothing. In her “pouch,” the infant breastfed in short, frequent bouts throughout the day. Soon, nurses began to notice the difference in kangaroo care infants. They grew faster, and their heart rates and body temperatures stabilized more quickly. The reason why gave us astonishing insight into the innate sensitivity of the mothering system.

What about skin-to-skin with dad or partner?

Dads/partners should be encouraged to have as much skin-to-skin time with their baby as often as they can. If there are times that mother and baby need to be separated, or after a cesarean section, dad/partner can hold baby skin-to-skin and provide just as many benefits and enhance bonding. Studies have found babies had a higher heart rate, a higher state of wakefulness, and with skin-to-skin contact, maintained an alert pattern of wakefulness for a prolonged time which facilitated self-regulation. Anna Ayala from the Department of Women’s and Children’s Health further added from her study: “ the newborns can be safely and adequately cared for by their fathers if mothers cannot take care of them straight after birth.”

There is a myth about child rearing that says women are somehow more nurturing than men and are therefore better suited to parenting.

In one of the earliest studies of father-infant interaction, researcher Ross Parke made a discovery that might shock the traditionalists: the fathers were just as caring about, interested in, and involved with their infants as the mothers were, and they held, touched, kissed, rocked, and cooed at their new babies with at least the same frequency as the mothers did. Several years later, Martin Greenberg coined a term, engrossment, to describe a father’s sense of absorption, preoccupation, and interest in his baby.

Parke and a number of other researchers have repeatedly confirmed these findings about father-infant interaction, and have concluded that what triggers engrossment in men is the same thing that prompts similar nurturing feelings in women: early infant contact. Parke writes, “the amount of stimulatory and affectional behavior depends on the opportunity to hold the infant.”

Hold those babies as long as you can!

“Our body is a sensual abundance where smiles, aromas, and laughter mingle around caresses that put the entire sensory world at our babies fingertips. Our baby gets tactile stimulation from our skin touching hers and kinesthetics from the pleasure of her limbs flexed into our body. She gets tactile, olfactory, and gustatory stimulation from the feel, smell, and taste of our skin and, if we nurse, our milk. Vestibular stimulation from the gentle rhythmicity of our movements and, when held upright, from her efforts to right her head and maintain balance. She gets visual stimulation when she looks all around her, auditory impulses as we softly whisper endearments, and kinesthetic stimulation as we change her to our other side.”

Sharon Heller

You cannot spoil a baby by holding them too much. There might come a time when they do not want to be held. Or get embarrassed when you ask for a hug & kiss goodbye in front of friends. So take advantage of the time you have to snuggle them in close. Teach them the best thing about being human, the importance of love through embrace and connection.

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