Womens Health

Extended Skin-to-Skin Contact Benefits Both Mom and Baby

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The benefits of skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth are well-known (see, for example, the Cochrane review, the Lamaze Healthy Birth Practice #6, and the WHO summary of research). But what about extended skin-to-skin contact in the weeks or months after birth? Does it make any difference in outcomes such as breastfeeding rates or mother-baby relationships?

Thanks to a post by the Breastfeeding Coalition of Boone, Clinton, and Montgomery County blog, I learned of multi-disciplinary research conducted in Nova Scotia, Canada on the outcomes of extended skin-to-skin contact. The researchers have produced two DVDs, viewable for free, explaining their findings:

There is also a discussion guide (PDF) for the DVDs.

still shot from "Enhancing Baby's First Relationship"

So what did the study examine, and what were the findings? 
The study examined the effects of skin-to-skin contact over the first 3 months of life. Researchers from psychology, nursing, medicine, nutrition, and anthropology helped with the study. Over 100 mothers and their full-term babies participated. One group was given no special instructions; the other was instructed to do skin-to-skin with their babies during the first month after birth. Both groups of mothers kept records of how much skin-to-skin contact they had with their babies.

Research assistants visited each mother-baby pair at 1 week, 1 month, 2 months, and 3 months after the birth. They took records of how much skin-to-skin contact the baby had on a daily basis, noted whether the mother was breastfeeding or formula feeding, had the mother complete a postpartum depression scale, observed the mother feeding her baby, and recorded a session while the mother was playing with her baby.

During the first week, the skin-to-skin group provided on average 5 hours of skin to skin [not sure if it was 5 hours per day or per week]. After the first week, the average dropped to 3 hours through the first month of life. The control group had little or no skin-to-skin contact with their babies.

The researchers' key findings were that skin-to-skin contact through the first month of life

  • Helped mothers maintain their choice to breastfeed
  • Increased mother's sensitivity to her baby
  • Reduced postpartum depression
  • Increased baby's alertness
  • Enhanced baby's responsiveness to their mother

The DVD features interviews with the researchers, mothers and fathers who participated in the study, and health care professionals commenting on the significance of skin-to-skin contact. It also shows video footage of mother-baby pairs interacting, nursing, and playing. It's remarkable how profoundly extended skin-to-skin influences outcomes for mothers, babies, and their developing relationships.

For more information, please contact:
Dr. Ann Bigelow
St. Francis Xavier University
P.O. Box 5000
Antigonish, NS
B2G 2W5