The Heart of Touch: Essentials of Skin-to-Skin Care
WOMAN: This is a safe space. This is the place of comfort and relaxation and closeness and love.
- The whole thing really hadn't been real up until that point. And then, when I got to hold him like that, it was-- it just felt better.
- When I first got to be skin to skin with her, it felt like, OK, whew, like, this is what this is about. This is what's possible.
- I can't believe she's here. It made it real.
- It's all new.
NARRATOR: Of all the senses we possess, nothing is more powerful than human touch. When we can't see, we feel. When we can't hear, we feel.
When babies enter a whole new world after thriving in a warm, comfortable home for nine months, they feel every new sensation. Skin to skin care is the practice of placing a naked baby in direct, uninterrupted, heart to heart contact with the mother or caregiver's bare chest in the sensitive time immediately after birth or as soon as possible afterwards. Skin to skin care has the potential to influence an entire life.
Birth can be unpredictable. And there are certainly times when early separation is clinically necessary. However, we now understand that the outdated practice of automatically separating mom and baby in the first hours after birth can have a lasting impact. In most situations, skin to skin care can provide your baby with an optimal start.
- Moms are so happy to get their babies to them right away. In any birth, that's what they're there for. They're there to get their hands on that kiddo that they've carried for nine months. So anything that we can do to make that happen faster is better.
- Those babies grow better. They're often here for shorter lengths of stay. The parents leave better connected. They're going to pick up on little changes in that baby status way sooner than a mom that didn't have that close time with the baby. So you're really saving a ton just by this one little act.
- This is your baby. And your baby has kicked inside. You've rubbed him on the outside. You've connected mentally, spiritually, you know, with some verbalisation. And the ultimate goal is that when that baby comes out, it gets a chance to see your face and you get a chance to see its face and to hold it and to smell and smell each other. And the skin to skin does that. And what it does, it allows a mother to understand that she's the most important thing in that baby's life.
When your baby is on your skin and wet and sticky and hot and you see the power of your body that your body is helping the baby calm down, not cry, looks at you, I think that makes mom feel like, wow, I can do something. I can do something nobody else can do right now.
- Midwives had told me that that's one of the most important things that the like is to have the baby do skin to skin, you know, for as long as possible. It was a good-- I don't know-- seven or eight hours after birth that we did the skin to skin. And then they finally came in and did all their measurements for her.
- For a number of reasons, it was just clear that she needed come out in a c-section. I was totally awake and present, but I couldn't see what was happening. It just made sense for her to still be, like, that connected.
That's part of the beauty of parenthood, to have this connection with another being where you get to love them that much and they get to love you. And like, I know people who have adopted or, like, fostered, taken in foster kids who were three months, six months, and, still, like just when they start that skin to skin, like, they get that connection.
NARRATOR: Over 40 years of research has shown what mothers have always known, that skin to skin or kangaroo care is a powerful way to care for your baby, especially if they're premature. When held close to the mother or other caregiver, these tiny beings bond more, experience increased stability in body temperature and heart rate, gain more weight, and are more likely to breastfeed, sleep deeper, and cry less.
- He was born at 29 weeks and 5 days. And he was just under two pounds after he first born. He had the most little things connected to him. And he was so little.
We were able to get me down to the NICU to hold him and do skin to skin for the first time. I didn't, like, feel like I was a mom yet until I really got to hold him. And so then we picked a name after that.
- Probably should have it as an order, just like you would order antibiotics or you'd order IV fluids. It should be an expectation that every baby is going to skin to skin. It's that important.
Pre-term babies are forced to undergo exposure to stimulation that-- out of order. They're exposed to really dramatic light changes, sounds that they shouldn't be exposed to. And that really forces a pathway change in the brain. Their brain is now having to lay down its groundwork in an altered state.
The only way that we can simulate the womb is to place the baby back on mom. And studies have shown that the only time that a pre-term baby's brain state normalizes to its womb state is when they're in skin to skin with mom. So if we want to try and preserve any of that normal brain development, we have to have the babies connected to their parents.
NARRATOR: The womb is the natural developmental habitat for all unborn mammals, providing warmth, protection, nutrition, and oxygenation through the uterus, placenta, and umbilical cord. The mother's body and milk stimulates many of these same benefits, optimizing development in the postpartum period. In addition to supporting physiological stability, bonding, and optimal brain development, skin to skin care stimulates a baby's instinct to breastfeed. Like all mammals, human babies move through distinctive stages after birth. When uninterrupted, they can actually crawl to the breast and self attach, just like a newborn kitten or puppy.
- I feel like my baby probably breastfed way better because she felt like she was there and she got used to being near my breast and smelling on it. And she could actually get used to being there.
NARRATOR: Although skin to skin improves breastfeeding, it is important to note that bottle-fed babies also receive significant benefits from skin to skin care.
- Well before he was actually able to feed, he was doing "nuzzle nursing," where you just kind of snuggle in while he's getting a G-tube feeding. And I think that was important for him in learning how to nurse longer term and emotionally was just really important for us. It's hard-- it's hard to be in the NICU--
- --for a long time. And it's hard to bond in that setting.
- Even though you're bottle feeding, you're just the same as any other mom. Your baby needs that same benefit. You know, open up your shirt. You know, let the baby get close to your skin. And bottle feed the best way you can. I think often we leave out the bottle feeding mother. We talk about the breastfeeding mother only.
I think we need look at flexibility in birth. It's not rigid. You use your heart as a mom. And just get your baby to you as soon as you can. There are all of these options that women need to know are available to them. And that guilt is never needed.
NARRATOR: Babies may not speak with words, but they communicate on a deeper level. The closeness of skin to skin care can help you learn more subtle ways that your baby is attempting to communicate with you. When done correctly, skin to skin care does not preclude safety. In fact, it naturally stabilizes a mother and baby's vital signs.
Providing safe skin to skin care for your baby is simple. One, have water and snacks on hand. Two, find a comfortable seat, ideally, semi-reclined.
Three, place undressed baby in a diaper vertically on the mother or caregiver's bare chest. Four, cover baby with a thin blanket or cloth. Five, make sure baby's head is turned to one side and nose is visible.
Six, although any duration of skin to skin can be beneficial, we know that 90 minute sessions are ideal for optimal sleep regulation and brain development. Seven, enjoy the special time with your baby. Many hospitals and birth centers are leading the way in changing birth culture by integrating skin to skin care in vaginal birth and c-sections alike.
- We have the evidence to say that is valuable. We just have to figure out how to implement it.
- There's a lot of things that we do in the hospital just because we've always done it that way. Even in my last 16 years, that's changed. The baby stays in the room now. Baby goes to the mom and stays with mom if everyone's stable and routine.
- When we go on rounds now, we try not to say, oh, this baby tolerated 360 minutes of kangaroo care. It's really that they tolerated being out of kangaroo care the rest of the time. So you just have to kind of have a mind switch. They should be with their parents as much as possible.
NARRATOR: You can ask your care provider how they feel about skin to skin care before you deliver, include it in your birth plan, or request it at any point in the postpartum period. We were born to be social, to embrace contact, and to give and receive love in the simplest of ways. Skin to skin care is one of the easiest ways to optimize health and bonding for newborns in the immediate postpartum hours and beyond. We encourage you to follow your own inner guidance to keep your baby close. Because human touch changes everything.