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The Power of Hugs: Skin-to-Skin Contact Makes a Difference

3 minutes Read

Moms and dads, when you meet your baby for the first time, all you’ll want to do is cuddle and hug that tiny person. As it turns out, that’s a terrific instinct! There are countless stories of babies’ health improving (including this incredible true story of a tiny preemie baby in Australia being revived by laying on his mother’s chest!) thanks to skin-to-skin contact. You might be wondering: what exactly is skin-to-skin contact? Generally, it’s when the baby is naked (except for a diaper), placed on the parent’s chest and covered in a blanket or the parent’s clothing. Beyond simply making both parent and child feel good, hugging has tons of benefits for both. Here are six of the best reasons to hug your little one!

The Power of Hugs: Skin-to-Skin Contact Makes a Difference

Regulate breathing and heart rate

When babies are born, especially if they’re born prematurely, their systems are immature. This can cause chaotic breathing or slowed heart rates. When your newborn is skin-to-skin on your chest, studies show that the cues your body provides can help their tiny bodies learn to “organize” vital functions, synchronizing their breathing and heart rate to yours. It’s as if your body teaches theirs how to function. Isn’t nature awe-inspiring?

Regulate baby’s temperature

Did you know that a mother’s breasts automatically adjust to keep their baby at an optimal body temperature? It sounds incredible, but it’s true. According to Midwifery Today, a publication dedicated to educating midwives around the world, moms naturally adjust “the warmth of their breasts to keep their infants at the optimal temperature. The journal goes on to write, “maternal breast temperature can rise rapidly, then fall off as the baby is warmed. As the baby starts to cool, the breasts heat up again - as much as 2 degrees Celsius in two minutes.” (That’s 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). Amazing!

Boost mother-child bonding 

Aside from making sure your baby is healthy, bonding with her will be one of your top priorities as a new parent. That first hour after you give birth is sometimes called the “Golden Hour,” for the time when mother and child are in the ideal position to form a strong connection, partially due to the hormones in play after labor, namely oxytocin, often called “the love hormone.” Also, newborns have a highly developed sense of smell, so the scents released by both mom and baby during birth have an almost addiction-like effect of bonding the two.

Reduce postpartum emotional distress for moms

Unfortunately, some new moms experience bouts of sadness, stress or grief after giving birth, even though they’re thrilled at welcoming their child. Good news. According to a study in the Journal of Obstetric, Gynecological, and Neonatal Nursing, skin-to-skin contact may reduce the risk for postpartum depression. The study showed that new moms who had six hours of skin-to-skin contact during the first week, followed by at least two hours in the next month reported fewer depressive symptoms.

Improve infant sleep

Sleep is a hot-button issue for families who have welcomed a new baby. If the baby sleeps well, chances are that others in the household will too. Fortunately, studies have shown that regular skin-to-skin contact can help infants fall asleep more easily and snooze for longer stretches of time

Reduce infant crying

Hearing your infant wail can be gut-wrenching for new parents. A study in the journal Pediatrics reported that skin-to-skin contact for just three hours a day can reduce infant crying by up to 43%. That’s huge! When baby cries less, this can help lower stress for mom and dad.

Are you sold on the many benefits of skin-to-skin contact after birth? Talk to your doctor and share that you’d like to make skin-to-skin a priority. Clear communication with your healthcare team can help you achieve your goals during and after delivery and beyond. They will likely have more helpful tips to share to set you up for success.

Claire Bradley

Now that you’re well-versed in the importance of skin-to-skin contact, check out these articles about why snuggles from mom  and hugs from dads are important too.