Let’s face it… there are just some things you can’t do over again, but if you could…you would! For me, that’s my story around the topic of Skin-to-Skin Mother/Baby Care (SSC). I’ve seen many changes in Mother-Infant care in 33 years on a professional level. My values, when it comes to lactation and infant care practices today, can be boiled down to one seemingly simple but an oh-so-powerful moment: when mommy’s skin meets baby’s skin. I unabashedly I have told many patients “I can’t have my kids over again but I can tell you about skin to skin.”
In 2012, I returned from a conference where the topic of conversation was encouraging moms to let the baby lie on her chest and watch the “magic” of the baby crawl happen. There are many names for this position, but the bottom line is that our instincts as mammals activate the baby’s reflexes and breastfeeding attachment. I noticed that not only did placing babies skin-to-skin help increase mothers’ milk supplies but it seemed to help babies recover from the process of birth.
The roots of SSC are extremely important for understanding the currently known benefits. In 1978 in Bogota, Columbia, doctors were desperate for a solution to inadequate numbers of incubators and caregivers for babies. Dr. Edgar Rey Sanabria suggested mothers have continuous SSC with their low weight babies to keep them warm and to exclusively breastfeed. Not only did the babies thrive but they were discharged early. SSC was born (some pun intended)! Doctors published their results in 1979, and coined the term “Kangaroo Mother Method”. This concept quickly caught on and it was soon introduced to countries all around the world.
A conference in 2013 on Skin-to-Skin Mother/Baby Care further explained why SSC was so important for mother and baby. Dr. Nils Bergman had come from South Africa to lecture on the neuroscience behind skin-to-skin. After this lecture I walked away committed to heralding the benefits of SSC. In a nutshell, the mother’s chest is the perfect place for the baby to thrive. The heart rate, respirations, blood sugar level and oxygen levels will become stable. In addition to this, gestation continues outside of the womb, things like maturation of the gut for digestion occurs, all because of skin-to-skin. This made it obvious to me that skin-to-skin was more than just cuddling.
I began to think about my own children and wish I could have known these things when they were born; they would have benefitted and so would I. I wish I could do it again and see if my engorgement would not have happened. I wish I could see if my depression would have been better. Of course I’ll never know if they would have handled stress better or had better ACT scores. My questions are endless, but I can now give expectant mothers some specifics I wish I would have known regarding skin-to-skin care.
Skin-to-Skin Mother/Baby Care is a tool that can be used for many different reasons. SSC can be your first line of defense if the infant’s temperature is low. Next to breast stimulation, SSC helps to boost milk supply. Looking to calm down a fussy baby? Place them skin-to-skin!! This important tool is available to all parents and their new babies.
For more information:
- Position paper on SSC from The International Childbirth Education Association (ICEA)
- Youtube videos by Dr. Nils Bergman
Skin to Skin Contact 5:13 minSocial and Emotional Intelligence of Infants 3:20 min
- Bergman, Nils. (2014). The neuroscience of birth – and the case for Zero Separation. Curationis. 37. 1. 10.4102/curationis.v37i2.1440.
- Feldman, R., Rosenthal, Z., Eidelman, A.I. (2014) Maternal-Preterm Skin-to-Skin Contact Enhances Child Physiologic Organization and Cognitive Control Across the First 10 Years of Life, In Biological Psychiatry, Volume 75, Issue 1, 2014, Pages 56-64, ISSN 0006-3223, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2013.08.012.
- “Kangaroo Care.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kangaroo_care.
- Richardson, H. (1998) Kangaroo Care: Why Does It Work? Midwifery Today, Issue 44, Winter 1998.