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Skin-to-skin care for babies

Newborn babies

Research supports mothers and babies being together skin-to-skin (baby naked, or in a nappy, placed against the mother’s bare chest) immediately after birth, uninterrupted, for at least an hour, provided your baby is well.

The positive effects on your baby include the following:

  • Baby’s skin temperature, heart rate and breathing rate are more likely to be stable and within normal range
  • Baby’s blood glucose levels are more likely to be stable and within normal range.
  • Baby is less likely to cry
  • Additional benefits for breastfed babies—baby is more likely to:
    • attach well at the breast
    • breastfeed effectively
    • breastfeed exclusively for longer

Mater encourages skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth. If your baby is born by caesarean section skin to skin may start in the operating theatre or in the recovery room. During the initial skin-to-skin contact you and your baby should be allowed to enjoy this experience without interference. You may, of course, make some attempts to help your baby attach to the breast and this should not be discouraged. You will not be left alone in this process; a midwife will be available to help you at any time.

You also have a unique ability to share your immune system with your baby during skin-to-skin contact. Babies are born with an immature immune system which develops over the first 12 months or so. Bacteria that surround you and your baby in the normal environment are absorbed into your system where you develop antibodies (special cells that fight infection or allergens). These antibodies are released into your breast milk to protect your baby. This is why it is so important for mothers and babies to remain in close contact with each other. This immune boost plus breastfeeding are believed to be important in the prevention of allergies.

This is also important for preterm babies. Skin-to-skin contact (also known as Kangaroo Mother Care) has positive benefits in the care of the preterm baby. Even babies needing oxygen can share skin-to-skin with their mother (or father). This can help to reduce their oxygen needs, stabilise their temperature, heart rate and breathing, and conserve their energy.

The use of skin-to-skin contact will be beneficial at any time during the breastfeeding relationship and is frequently used by lactation consultants to correct numerous breastfeeding problems.

Skin-to-skin contact is beneficial for all babies whether they are breast, or formula, fed. 

Preterm or sick babies

Skin-to-skin (kangaroo) care means placing your baby directly onto bare skin between your breasts or on their father's chest while keeping them warm. In the Neonatal Critical Care Unit, we encourage parents to participate in skin-to-skin care with their babies.  

There are many benefits of skin-to-skin care for you and your baby and these include:

  • enhanced bonding between baby and parents
  • helping to conserve your baby's energy
  • stabilising your baby's heart rate and breathing
  • normalising your baby's temperature
  • increasing your baby's tolerance to noise and stress
  • increased milk supply
  • earlier and more successful breastfeeding
  • encouraging non-nutritive sucking
  • a daily vaccination against infections—mothers who skin-to-skin care with their babies produce antibodies in their milk that are specific to the hospital environment
  • helping with your baby's brain development
  • earlier discharge from hospital
  • making both babies and parents happy.

Suitable clothing that will allow easy access for skin-to-skin care may include the following:

  • A button-up style shirt.
  • A shirt with a low neckline made of soft stretchy fabric.
  • hospital gown.
  • Remove your bra just prior to skin-to-skin care allowing your baby to have direct contact with your skin.

All babies who are stable even if they need help with their breathing (with either a tube or nasal prongs), can have skin-to-skin therapy. Let your baby's nurse know your plans and that you are available for a cuddle whenever your baby's condition allows. Together you can plan a suitable time.​

If your baby is ready for skin-to-skin care, it is important that you do not miss this special opportunity. If your breasts are full, you may wish to express so that you are more comfortable. You may also choose to go to the toilet prior to cuddling your baby.

When you and your baby are ready, your nurse will assist you both into a comfortable and safe position on a recliner chair within the nursery. Your baby needs to be kept warm so you can either tuck your baby under your shirt or cover your baby with your hospital gown and a warm blanket. Cuddling your baby in this way for a minimum of one hour duration or longer, and whenever possible (more than once a day is recommended), is ideal as long as your baby remains stable and you are comfortable. You may also like to look at your baby's face using a hand held mirror. 

During skin-to-skin care:

  • your baby should be placed between your breasts or on their father's chest, in an upright position and then covered to keep them warm
  • your baby should be dressed in a nappy only
  • your baby should have their head turned to one side in a slightly upturned position—this assists with your baby's breathing and allows you to have eye contact with your baby
  • your baby's arms and legs should be flexed
  • your baby's abdomen should be at the level of your upper abdomen
  • your baby's nurse will teach you how to recognise any changes in your baby's behaviour or condition.

At times some babies are too sick or unstable to have skin-to-skin care. Your baby's nurse will explain why if this is the situation for your baby but you are encouraged to participate in other aspects of caring for your baby, such as changing their nappy or cleaning their face, taking their temperature, changing their sheets or talking and reading to them. Your nurse can also show you how to cuddle your baby with facilitated tucking or containment by placing your hands gently over your baby (also known as hand hugs).

Skin-to-skin care and breastfeeding

During skin-to-skin care you may observe your baby showing feeding cues i.e. making sucking movements with their mouth, turning their head to one side or the other, opening their mouth (rooting) and looking for something to suck on. These cues may occur from when your baby is 30 weeks corrected gestational age. If you observe this behaviour during skin-to-skin care, ask your nurse if your baby is able to attempt a breastfeed and if so to assist you to position your baby at the breast. Your baby may attempt to self-latch, or lick or sniff the nipple. These are all encouraging signs of early feeding behaviours.

Mater acknowledges consumer consultation in the development of this patient information.
Mater Doc Num: PI-CLN-430102
Last modified 27/4/2020.
Consumers were consulted in the development of this patient information.
Last consumer engagement date: 20/4/2020
For further translated health information, you can visit healthtranslations.vic.gov.au/ supported by the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services that offers a range of patient information in multiple languages.
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