For babies, the nine months of pregnancy may feel like one long, loving embrace. It’s not surprising, then, that studies support the benefits of skin-to-skin contact for mothers and babies from the moment of birth, throughout infancy and beyond.
If you’re an expectant mother, you can enjoy these benefits by including immediate skin-to-skin contact with your baby as part of your birth plan. Even for babies born by cesarean section, skin-to-skin time right after delivery is not only possible; it’s a wonderful, strong start for both mother and baby.
If babies remain in skin-to-skin contact with moms after delivery, and are healthy enough that they do not require immediate interruption for weighing, eye ointment, bath, moving, or other care, they will experience a series of instinctive bonding stages. The multiple benefits of skin-to-skin contact include, but are not limited to:
- keeping babies warm after birth;
- babies staying more calm and crying less;
- babies breathing easier and having more normal heart rates;
- higher levels of relaxation hormones for mom;
- babies latching onto the breast all by themselves or with very minimal assistance;
- more successful and longer-term breastfeeding.
As babies grow, infant massage provides a natural next step to continue this bond and its benefits. Infant massage is about bonding, loving and respect. It is best to start by asking permission to begin the massage, and then listen for the baby’s cues to see if they’re engaging or disengaging. Babies communicate from the moment they’re born through body language, sound and behavior.
- enhances babies’ awareness of being loved, accepted and safe;
- improves sleep patterns;
- improves digestion and elimination;
- reduces fussiness and increases comfort in the environment;
- improves neurological function;
- increases weight gain for premature and full-term babies;
- increases lactation production for mothers;
- reduces postpartum depression for mothers;
- improves relaxation for baby and parents.
From the first cuddle to the lasting bond, babies and parents can benefit enormously from learning their “first language” – touch – creating a strong start toward a lifetime of nurturing affection and good health.
Susan Crowe, MD, is an obstetrician at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford and a clinical assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Maureen McCaffrey is a Certified Infant Massage Instructor at Packard Children’s. Learn more at startstrongbaby.com.