Skin to Skin Contact With Your Baby
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There is strong evidence to suggest that the events experienced in the first few hours of a newborn's life can have a dramatic effect on his or her future development, as well as on the bonding process of infant and mother. Effective bonding is crucial and can provide your growing child with a sense of security, as well as affecting their social skills as they become toddlers. One of the most important factors studied and observed was skin to skin contact. Holding your naked baby or laying your baby directly on to your skin following birth, or at any time, can provide warmth, comfort and assurance for both of you.
The sense of smell is the most developed sense that a newborn has. Placing your baby directly next to your skin to allow them to become accustomed to your individual odour can provide further comfort and assurance. Their sense of touch is also highly developed. This means your baby will enjoy and will benefit from being held directly against you, as well as being cuddled, gently stroked and rocked.
In a recent study that took place in a number of countries, babies who were left on their mother's abdomen directly following birth instead of being taken for various checks and measures made remarkable behaviours. Babies left in this manner to recover after birth, (let's not forget that it is a traumatic experience for them too!), were able to gradually make their own way up their mother's body to begin to suckle naturally. Babies are often laid directly on to the mother's chest following birth and encouraged to feed immediately, but if left to find their own way, babies will smell and seek out their natural food source instinctively. It is, however, common practise in most hospitals for babies to be taken for a few measurements first and no harm will come to you or your baby if the bonding process is delayed for a few moments.
Breastfeeding is indeed a very convenient way to feed your baby, (no bottles to sterilise etc.) and many studies have proven that it is beneficial to the baby in many ways, but formula milk is also very good and will provide all the nutrients your baby needs. There are many legitimate reasons why you may choose not to breastfeed and you should never feel pressured to do so if you feel that it is not for you. However, there is still every need and opportunity for you to share some skin to skin contact while bottle feeding your baby.
Good for dads too
Skin to skin bonding is not just for mums. Let's face it, mums tend to get all the attention and newborns, particularly those who are breastfed, are totally reliant on their mums in the first few months. It is all too easy for Dad to feel left out. Allow your partner time to bond with their baby and encourage skin to skin contact as a way for them spend some time together. If you are bottle feeding, or if you are able to express some milk, then encourage your partner to experience some intimate skin to skin contact whilst they give a feed.
If your baby is born prematurely or if there have been other complications, then it may not be possible to place your baby directly on your body for that initial contact. If you find that your baby needs to spend time in a specialist unit and/or incubator, it does not mean that you have lost the opportunity for bonding. Indeed, specialist baby units understand the importance of this contact for both you and your baby and will actively encourage it once the baby is well enough. It is important to keep premature or poorly babies very warm and it will be suggested that you hold your baby next to your skin under your clothing. This is called Kangaroo Care. Studies have shown that holding a poorly baby in this way can help regulate their heart rate and breathing and even increase the rate of growth. It also provides comfort and reduces crying, so holding your baby like this for as long as possible is a great way to get you both through this traumatic time. Skin to skin contact from either parent has been shown to be beneficial, and if you are breastfeeding, skin to skin contact will help with milk production.
Skin to skin contact has been described as an early language for babies; it provides comfort and assurance in a way that they can understand. Bonding by skin to skin contact and providing physical affection can be as important as food for the growth and development of your baby. It is a very intimate experience and holding your newborn baby to your body will likely be something that you will naturally want to do and will also very much enjoy.