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The Science (and Magic) Behind Skin-to-Skin Contact

why do babies need skin to skin contact

Holding your baby in a loving embrace, your skin touching their skin, seems like a no-brainer idea - yet all too often we overlook the proven health benefits of this simple, physical connection. The practice - also known as “Kangaroo Care”, has been used for centuries by countries like Africa. However, it only rose to prominence in the North American medical community in the 1970s, when scientists began studying how skin-to-skin contact fosters positive maternal and infant outcomes.

Over 40 years later, peer-reviewed evidence continues to grow, supporting our understanding that physical contact between baby and family is crucial in childhood development. In fact, this study which examined children at 10 years of age found that those who had received skin-to-skin contact as babies now displayed a range of benefits including better maternal attachment behaviour, reduced maternal anxiety, enhanced child cognitive development and good mother-child communication.

We at Joeyband™ built our company around making sure mothers could safely hold their babies immediately after childbirth, no matter how exhausted they were.  In other words, we know a thing or two about how skin-to-skin contact is beneficial for both parent and baby. But what is the actual science behind skin-to-skin contact, and why is it such a fundamental part of your baby’s development? 

Your Baby’s Ability to Receive Breastfeeding Will Strengthen 

Having your newborn baby placed on your chest for a period of time directly after birth is known as the “Golden Hour”. Studies and research (like this Stanford one) have shown that a baby who maintains skin-to-skin contact with its mother during this period is more likely to latch on to the breast. If skin-to-skin contact continues for the following hours, days and weeks of your baby’s life - especially during the Fourth Trimester, your baby is not only more likely to breastfeed exclusively and for longer, but will also let you know when they are ready to feed.

As well as helping the colostrum (the first, nutrient-rich breast milk to protect baby) to flow more easily, skin-to-skin contact will help mom produce more of the hormone Oxytocin, which improves milk flow and bonding. It’s also been shown to help moms breastfeed longer by building milk supply and strengthening the bond with the baby. 

 In medical room procedures where mothers deliver their baby via Caesarean, they may find it more challenging to support their baby during the Golden Hour period. The Joeyband™ 's patented, simple velcro wrap-around design will provide you and your baby with the support necessary for skin-to-skin contact, regardless of delivery method.  


Skin-to-Skin Contact Supports Baby’s Immune System 

Skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth allows the baby’s body to be “colonized” by the same bacteria as the mother. If a baby is placed in an incubator, their skin and gut are often colonized by bacteria different from their mother’s, potentially resulting in a weaker immune system.  

The practice of skin-to-skin contact, plus breastfeeding, is thought to help prevent your baby developing allergies or diseases. The International BreastFeeding Centre has also proven that premature babies as small as 2 or 3lbs develop a more stable metabolism, maintain a healthy blood sugar level and breathe better if they experience skin-to-skin immediately after birth. Acting as a natural incubator, having mom’s warmth from skin-to-skin contact also enables babies to stabilize their body temperature and regulate their breathing. 


Better Cognitive Development As a Result of Skin-to-Skin

In addition to the physical benefits skin-to-skin contact presents, it’s been found that babies who are more often held skin-to-skin are more physiologically stable than those placed in an incubator after birth. They also demonstrate better neurobehavioral outcomes, including less crying (babies who experience skin-to-skin contact are 12 times less likely to cry) and lower pain response. The direct connection with their parent’s skin also soothes the baby so much that their cortisol levels (or stress hormone) are measurably lowered after only 20 minutes of being held skin to skin. 

A Elsevier study from 2017 found that a baby's earliest experiences of being touched shape their sensory nervous system, linked to cognitive, perceptual, and social development. The researchers conclude that soothing and comforting physical human contact improves neurodevelopmental outcomes—especially for premature babies. 

The Baby-Parent Bond Is Strengthened Through Skin-to-Skin

When people think of skin-to-skin contact, the image that still comes to mind is of a newborn baby being placed on its mother’s chest. This isn’t unfounded - the mother’s body is, after all, baby’s natural habit and where it’s recommended babies spend their first hour of life. 

However, extensive research and studies on the subject demonstrate the important role both parents play in practicing skin-to-skin contact. For mothers, skin-to-skin contact right after delivery causes the brain to release a hormone called beta-endorphin. This works like a mild painkiller, helping mom feel calmer and more relaxed. Oxytocin is also released, the brain’s “feel-good” hormone that promotes both bonding and breastfeeding.

Dad will also experience a release of Oxytocin through practicing skin-to-skin with baby. With increased Oxytocin levels, Dad’s testosterone levels decrease, creating a much more relaxed feeling for both baby and Dad. It also helps Dad to respond to new baby with nurturing and affectionate behaviours, allowing them to create a deeper, more emotional bond. Dads are more interactive with their infants and report a stronger bond long term if they’ve held baby skin-to-skin.

With three different sizes to accommodate different shapes and body frames, the Joeyband™ is designed for use by a mom, dad, older sibling or grandparent to help care for and bond with baby through skin-to-skin contact. Its messenger-style velcro closure is adjustable, while each size has 21 inches of adjustability, providing a more universal fit for different caregivers and changing bodies.

As parents become more sensitive and aware of baby’s needs, they feel more tuned-in to baby, create a deeper bond, and therefore develop more confidence in their overall parenting skills. 

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