The benefits of skin-to-skin contact for parents and babies

Have you heard the term “Kangaroo Care”? While it’s not a new concept, it is increasing in popularity around the world and is considered a game-changer when it comes to newborn care. What is it? It’s a method of holding a baby that maximises the amount of skin-to-skin contact between the caregiver and the child. Usually the child will be wearing just a nappy and the caregiver will place the baby on their (bare or mostly bare) chest. A blanket can be placed over both of you for warmth if necessary. It’s often referred to as ‘Kangaroo Care’ because it’s similar to how a mother kangaroo will cradle her baby in her pouch.

Why is Kangaroo Care so popular?

The main reason this type of care is encouraged by medical professionals? Because it improves the relationship between the baby and its caregivers. During this type of skin-to-skin bonding, a parent’s body will produce a range of hormones, including oxytocin and endorphins, that contribute towards forming strong emotional bonds between parent and child.

The medical benefits

But it’s not just good for building relationships, Kangaroo Care has medical benefits for the baby, too. Early skin-to-skin contact has been shown to help calm the baby, regulate their heart rate, breathing and body temperature – essentially helping them adjust to their new environment outside the womb. It also stimulates the baby’s interest in feeding and allows the friendly bacteria on the mother’s skin to transfer to the baby – this, in turn, offers the baby some protection from future infection.

And while Kangaroo Care is effective and parents are encouraged to practice it with all newborns, research suggests that skin-to-skin contact is particularly beneficial for premature babies and those who spend time in the Neonatal ICU, with medical professionals noting better developmental outcomes in babies who enjoyed Kangaroo Care. These babies were usually discharged from the NICU sooner than those who didn’t enjoy skin-to-skin contact, and during their hospitalisation they:

  • cried less and slept more than babies who didn’t have skin-to-skin contact with caregivers
  • showed better oxygen saturation levels
  • had reduced stress levels
  • were more successful at breastfeeding
  • experienced healthier weight gain

What about mom and dad?

It’s clear that Kangaroo Care is good for babies, but there are benefits for the parents, too, including helping to boost breast milk supply in breastfeeding mothers, and it can even give new parents a confidence boost related to their parenting skills.

How do you do Kangaroo Care?

Try to wear a shirt that opens at the front as this will make skin-to-skin contact easier. Place the baby – dressed only in a nappy – on your chest and, once you’re settled, you may want to cover both of you in a hospital gown or a blanket to keep warm. Now, simply relax together – baby is likely to fall asleep so take these quiet moments to rest and just enjoy your newborn!