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Skin-to-Skin and Bonding

Updated: Aug 17, 2020

The first hour after birth is a magical time for the mother and baby to begin the process of bonding. Research has shown that what happens during the first 60 minutes of a baby’s life can maximise bonding between mother and baby and in fact that uninterrupted contact between mother and baby during the first hour and week after birth is critical to the child’s growth and development. Some of the benefits of skin-to-skin can are also seen when done by the father/partner.

Benefits of Skin-to-Skin Immediately After and in the First Week After Birth

  • Both the mother and the baby’s heart rates are more stable.

  • The baby’s body temperature remains stable: a mother’s chest is warmer than any other part of the body and keeps the baby from cooling down, helping them to preserve their energy. These babies are shown to lose less weight in the first postpartum week.

  • The risk of infection for baby significantly decreases: some of the mother’s good bacteria (skin microbiome), which plays an important role in the baby's immunity, is transferred via skin-to-skin contact.

  • Physiological signs of stress decrease for baby: being skin-to-skin shows that babies are calmer and that the natural progress of newborn development is then able to take place.

  • The baby cries less: this is less distressing for both the mother and the baby.

  • Breastfeeding is seen to be more successful when a baby spends time skin-to-skin with a mother in the first week after birth.

  • Reduced risk of hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar levels): being skin to skin enhances the baby's ability to produce glucose.

  • Increase in mother’s confidence: oxytocin receptors increase during pregnancy, and when a baby is born, the mother is more responsive to this hormone. Oxytocin promotes maternal instincts and is produced in large quantities about 20 minutes postpartum if the mother and baby are left skin-to-skin.

  • The benefits of skin-to-skin contact with father/partner include bonding with their baby, feeling more confident as a parent, and feeling a surge of protectiveness toward their baby. Fathers/partners also pass on the same benefits as mothers do in terms of helping to regulate their baby's temperature and heartbeat and passing on beneficial skin microbiome’s.

Bonding is the intense attachment that develops between parents and their baby, beginning in the first days after birth. Studies show that the strong ties between parents and their child provide the baby's first model for intimate relationships and help foster a sense of security and positive self-esteem.

Human babies are born very dependent on their parents. They undergo huge brain development, growth and neuron pruning in the first two years of life. The brain development of infants (as well as their social, emotional and cognitive development) depends on a loving bond or attachment relationship with a primary caregiver, most commonly the mother.

Most infants are ready to bond immediately and some parents feel an intense attachment within the first minutes or days after their baby's birth, for others, it may take a bit longer. Bonding is a process it is not something that takes place within minutes although evidence shows that with the help of post-birth hormones and good amounts of time spent skin-to-skin, the bonding process has a better foundation.

Bonding and attachment is a two-way, interactive process in which the baby reads its mother’s cues just as she is reading her baby’s cues. For instance, babies need outside help to calm down and an anxious caregiver can add to the baby’s stress, making them harder to soothe. Every mother will need help and support on occasion to regain or remain calm, relaxed and engaged. Sometimes the task of soothing needs to be taken over by the father/partner, or another person, to give the mother the space to calm herself before resuming her task of mothering.

Healthy bonding leads to something called secure attachment. It provides a baby with a good foundation for adept self-awareness, trust and consideration for others; it leads to a separate sense of self. This in turns leads to developing healthy boundaries.

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