If you are a first-time mum and have been scouring the internet for what birth feels and looks like, you might already be familiar with skin-to-skin contact, a.k.a. kangaroo care.
So, what is it? What is skin-to-skin contact? Even before you became pregnant, you might have already seen this scene in different movies or shows where they cover the labour and delivery of a female character.
She is at the most stressed at the beginning of this scene and the most relaxed, even teary at the end, when the doctor who delivered her baby places the little tike on her chest, their crying getting softer, and the mother looking exhausted but relieved beyond measure.
That's the skin-to-skin contact we are talking about here. Those precious moments directly after birth.
The question now is: is it that important? Or was it just to make the scene more emotional? The shocking thing is kangaroo care is not just for emotional pull. It has tons of benefits both for the mother and her baby. And, in this article, we are going to give you all the facts that you need to know about skin-to-skin contact or kangaroo care.
Benefits of Kangaroo Care
Image Source: iStock
Better Adjustment Outside the Womb
Remember your baby has been inside of you for 9 whole months. So, leaving that nest of comfort will surely become a new experience for them. It will take them some time to adjust.
Temperature, for instance, is one of the many things that newborns need to get used to. But, having them chilling on your skin will help them adjust because your skin is the same temperature as your womb.
Regulated Heart Rate and Respiration
Kangaroo care releases hormones that help in stabilising the baby's temperature, heart rate, breathing, and blood sugar.
Some babies who even suffered from respiratory issues had improved responses within 48 hours of having skin-to-skin contact with their mums, without the use of respirators. Because babies breathed better after kangaroo care, the saturation of their oxygen is better as well.
You don't even need to know the science to agree that instant calm is easily the most apparent effect of skin-to-skin contact. What happens is the baby's stress hormone, cortisol, is reduced upon feeling their mum's skin on their own, and the "cuddle hormone," oxytocin, is increased during the encounter as well. The effect, of course, is babies feeling calm and safe.
Image Source: iStock
Improved Sleep for Babies
Since babies are instantly calmed by the touch of their mums, it makes sense why they would also sleep better. And the effect is long-term, as studies have confirmed babies even premature ones sleep more deeply and have more uninterrupted sleep after continuous kangaroo care.
Increased Mental Development
So, we know skin-to-skin contact helps them sleep better. Because they sleep better, their brains have more time to develop.
A Canadian study has even proven that premature babies who received kangaroo care at birth had better brain functioning upon reaching 15 years of age than those who had not received kangaroo care. And the precise reason for that outcome is the amount of calm and sleep that they get from having skin-to-skin contact with their mothers.
With skin-to-skin contact, you are also introducing your baby's skin to the friendly bacteria in your skin, which provides protection against infection. And with more protection from infection, the better your baby's immunity is.
More Effortless Breastfeeding
The beginning stage of breastfeeding can be quite intense, because one of the struggles of first-time mums is getting their babies to latch, but not if they did kangaroo care after giving birth.
When they have skin-to-skin contact with their babies immediately after giving birth, their babies have a heightened sense of smell, and so they could smell their mums' nipples and can more easily start breastfeeding.
The effect of skin-to-skin contact between a mum and her child is so significant that they can breastfeed 3 months longer than mums who did not do skin-to-skin contact with their babies.
Image Source: iStock
Effortless breastfeeding leads to more supply of milk. And more milk means better health gain for the baby.
Lessened Risk for Postpartum Depression
Kangaroo care is good not only for the baby but for the mum as well. Studies have shown that kangaroo care has significant effects in preventing postpartum depression in women. It's because skin-to-skin contact reactivates the pathways in the mother's adrenal axis to prevent the risk of depression.
To top that off, the oxytocin released during this encounter helps lessen mum's anxiety and promotes attachment.
Kangaroo Care Process
The next thing you probably want to know is how skin-to-skin contact works. It's pretty simple actually. There are four main stages:
1. The birth cry
As soon as your doctor has pulled your baby out of your lady parts (or the insides of your abdomen if you are having a C-section), they will rest the baby on top of you, laying them on their stomach directly above your chest. And you will hear your baby cry. Don't feel intimidated or concerned. Your baby's cry will only take a few seconds.
2. The relaxed mood
As your baby's cries lessen, their movements lessen as well. They enter the relaxation stage because they can already smell you - your smell is familiar to them. This is the part where they feel calm upon feeling your skin on theirs.
3. The search for the nipple
After the calm, all of their senses start getting heightened - their sense of smell, specifically - and they try to find their source of food, which is your nipples.
You will feel them sort of draw up their knees and scrunch up next to your breast. And once they find your breast, expect them to nuzzle, smell, or lick around the area. This part takes some time. So, you have to be patient. Don't get frustrated; it will happen.
4. The latch
Once they get more familiarised with your breast, they might go ahead and start self-attach. You need to position yourself and the baby more strategically here to help them latch more easily. Upon latching, they'll give themselves time to suckle on your colostrum (the magic milk that flows out of your breast) and release it once they're full.
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Safety Tips When Doing Skin-to-Skin Contact
If you're giving birth in the hospital, your nurses will be in charge of making sure you and your baby are doing the process properly. However, if you decide to continue doing kangaroo care at home, you need to remember a few things:
- Do it when you're not planning to sleep. You need to be alert because if you fall asleep, you could end up squishing your baby or your baby might fall off your chest. So, if you want some skin from your baby, you better keep those eyes open.
- Sit upright. Avoid doing skin-to-skin contact flat on your back. At most, keep their head higher than their feet to avoid breathing problems. Since we are talking positions, also make sure your baby's head is turned to the side, their nose up, for easy breathing.
- Dress appropriately. Yes, we know it's skin-to-skin contact, which means your baby's skin has to feel a large surface of your skin, but we also need to protect your baby from the environment around them. So a light blanket over their backs (not their faces) will do. Then, put a cap on their head to avoid them from feeling cold. And, finally, put a diaper on them. You never know when they'll need to do a number.
And that wraps up our little 101 on Kangaroo Care. With this amount of benefits coming from simple skin-to-skin contact between a mum and her baby, we can all agree that this kind of mum-baby bonding is just plain magic. We're pretty sure you'll look forward to the moment you'll get to experience it as well.
Image Source: iStock
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