The most classic definition of ‘Skin-to-Skin Care’ (which is the same as ‘Kangaroo Care’) refers specifically to sessions of 60 minutes of continuous touch between baby and mom in the first moments, hours and days after baby is born. First, baby is placed on mother’s chest immediately after birth, where the cascade of normal hormonal physiological benefits will occur. Baby will show nine distinct stages of bonding including relaxation, crawling (Yes! A newborn will actually wiggle towards the breast!) and rooting to suckle.
The latest research shows that while the 60 minute time frame recommended for classic Kangaroo Care is important, it touches on just a fraction of the benefits available to baby and mom from a more comprehensive understanding of skin-to-skin care. Even six seconds of skin-to-skin touch is often enough to raise the ‘love and bonding’ hormone oxytocin, which could make breastfeeding easier and reduce the symptoms of postpartum depression. Studies have shown that even brain development is enhanced in babies who had ample skin-to-skin contact in those early hours and weeks after being born. It also helps bring baby’s heart rate, temperature, and blood pressure and breathing rates back to normal after the stimulation of being born. Babies experience stress as they go through the birthing process and your baby instinctively knows that nestling into your chest is the best place she could be to rest and recuperate.
Additionally, it is within the first 48 hours after birth that baby’s skin is first colonized with the beneficial bacteria from Mom that helps keep baby’s dermal micro flora (skin surface bacteria) in protective balance.
The natural colonization of baby’s skin with the same bacteria as found on mom’s skin, plus breastfeeding, are thought to help prevent allergic reactions in baby as she ages. Skin-to-skin closeness with Mom, immediately after birth and beyond, are critical to support breastfeeding and healthy, protective skin through the proper micro flora colonization.
As baby gets older, there are plenty of opportunities for parents to share increased skin-to-skin contact time, through baby massage, giving baby a bath, taking a nap together, or just playing simple games together while touching (Peek a boo with baby in your lap and a board book!)