All humans need touch, but babies need it most. Babies wish to be held in close contact—skin to skin—with their mothers. Dads can and should engage in the practice too.
Skin-to-skin care provides a host of benefits for babies well beyond a newborn’s first days. It improves heart and lung function, stabilizes a baby’s body temperature and blood sugar levels, transfers good bacteria, and helps relieve any pain from clinical procedures. It also enhances parent-baby communication, boosts parent-child bonding, reduces crying, helps a mom and baby initiate breastfeeding, and calms a hungry or weary child.
Here are ways to give skin-to-skin care immediately after birth and beyond.
Hold your baby right after birth. The first hour (or more!) after birth provides a wonderful opportunity to begin skin-to-skin care. If a mother can’t provide skin-to-skin care right away—for example, after a cesarean delivery—the baby’s father can do so. (Discuss this option with your health care provider during prenatal visits.)
Room-in with your baby. Rooming-in—having the baby stay in the mother’s room throughout the hospital stay—is becoming typical practice across the United States. Rooming-in ensures that you’ll have many opportunities to hold your newborn baby in your arms and skin to skin.
Practice babywearing. Use a sling, a harness-style carrier, a wrap, or some other type of baby carrier to keep your baby close throughout the day. To enhance skin-to-skin contact, keep your baby in a diaper and touch your baby often. Moms can consider wearing a bra or tank top when they can. If moms would like to use a commercial wrap, they should research which is best for their baby and pay close attention to the manufacturer’s directions.
Comfort your baby during feedings. If your baby is showing signs of distress during feeding times, skin-to-skin care can help her feel more comfortable, reinforcing her sense of security and aiding her transition to suckling.
Engage in tummy-to-tummy time. Babies are supposed to have some time each day on their tummy so they don’t develop a flat spot on the back of their head from lying on their back during sleeping hours, and so their neck muscles will become stronger. But “tummy time” doesn’t have to be on the floor—it can be on you! Undress your baby to his diaper, take your shirt off, and place him on your chest. Keep one hand on him for stability, and drape a light blanket across his back for warmth.
Read together. Babies love to hear the soothing tones of their parents’ voices and respond with rapt attention when spoken to in typical “parentese," which is a type of speech where an adult speaks to a child in an exaggerated and repetitive way, often times in a sing-song or musical voice. Take advantage of the time spent together reading to fit in a little more soothing skin-to-skin contact.
Practice infant massage. Skin-to-skin contact isn’t relegated to only a mother’s or father’s chest. Babies can receive enormous benefits from other forms of skin-to-skin touch, including infant massage. There are many approaches to massaging a baby, but this practice is most soothing and most beneficial when it’s used as a predictable part of the baby’s daily routine. (You can get tips on how to massage your baby here.)
Allow time for baby-skin-to-daddy-skin care. Skin-to-skin care by fathers is also beneficial for the baby—and for Dad! Fathers can set aside a special hour each day that’s just for them and baby to relax together skin to skin.
On days when schedules result in skin-to-skin contact being in short supply, simply cuddle your baby as close as you can as often as you can. It’s good for him, and it’s good for you too.